Former Union minister and veteran Congress leader Sushilkumar Shinde has created a buzz in the state by his statement that the Congress and NCP will merge in future. Shinde, whose daughter Praniti Shinde is contesting on a Congress ticket for the third time from Solapur city seat, speaks with Manoj More about the upcoming elections
You have said that the Congress and the NCP will merge in future.
Ofcourse, I said that. It's my personal view.
Why did you make a comment like that just before the elections?
This is because I strongly feel that if Congress and NCP merge in Maharashtra, together they will become an unbeatable team. Both Congress and NCP have similar principles, ideologies and a secular outlook. Similarly, I feel all those Congress leaders who left the party, if returned, the party will become a potent force in the country. It's time Congress became a united force in the country.
How has the response to your remark been?
I got a number of calls from former Congress members, who praised it... They shared my view that Congress will emerge stronger if party leaders from across the country join hands.
But NCP doesn't seem to be interested in the idea. Does Sharad Pawar approve of your idea?
I have started a debate, let see what happens... I haven't discussed the issue with him (Pawar) so far. Neither did he call me after I made the remark. I will meet him soon in Pandharpur. Let's see what happens at that meeting.
Does your remark have anything to do with the current state of the Congress?
The Congress has gone through bad phase even during the time of Indira Gandhi. The poor people supported and lifted the Congress. The party emerged stronger. Currently, there are only two strong leaders in Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Where are the leaders with mass appeal? Congress doesn't have leaders or money... On the other hand, the BJP is emotionally blackmailing people in the name of religion...and raising issues like Ram Mandir and Article 370.
In Maharashtra, the Congress is in bad shape. There is no aggression in poll campaigns, leaders don't see eye-to-eye. The party won just one seat in the Lok Sabha polls. How do you think it will fair in the Assembly polls?
During the Lok Sabha elections, we were hit very badly. Take my example, the BJP fielded a 'religious' candidate and sought votes in the name of religion. Then there was Prakash Ambedkar from VBA, who played the caste card...But now Congress is improving and we are hopeful of a better show in this elections. I think we (Congress-NCP) should get anywhere between 125 and 152 seats.
NCP's Ajit Pawar said the alliance will form the government by winning 170 seats.
If Ajit Pawar is saying so, then it could be possible. He has been criss-crossing Maharashtra and he knows better. I have not been able to travel much.
But Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis recently said that the Congress will get only 24 seats, half of what it won 2014.
Let him say whatever he wants to...
Some Congress leaders say Rahul Gandhi should stay put in Maharashtra to revive the mood among the rank and file and the electorate.
It is unfortunate that national leaders are being forced into state elections. Earlier, national leaders including the Prime Minister used to finish their election tours in one go...
Why do you think the BJP is going all out holding a slew of rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah and the Chief Minister?
I think they are afraid of losing Maharashtra elections. They probably have Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections on thier mind. That's why they are going all out to avoid the same embarrassment.
Congress failed to get Prakash Ambedkar on its side. Do you think your efforts failed?
Instead of uniting secular forces, it is sad that Prakash Ambedkar was behaving against the ideals of secularism preached by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar...Prakash Ambedkar is killing secularism. Even during the Lok Sabha elections, his stand led to the defeat of 9-10 candidates of secular parties like Congress-NCP. Therefore, the accusation that he works for BJP-RSS seem to sound true.
What's your take on ED notice to Sharad Pawar?
It is nothing but sheer harassment and political vendetta being carried out by the present regime... Even Praful Patel is being harassed.