The Congress party failed to link issues of unemployment, growth and agrarian distress to national security in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, says Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi, who claims that a "fair amount of introspection" on the defeat has been done in the party.
The two-time MP from Kaliabor in Assam and the party in-charge of West Bengal told ANI in an interview that in the Lok Sabha election Bengal became "very polarised and communal" and Trinamool Congress (TMC) should introspect on the reasons for Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) rise in the state.
Gogoi (37), who is a permanent invitee to Congress Working Committee (CWC) - the party's highest decision-making body - said unemployment and agrarian distress were realities of the country and the Congress was raising them continuously during the campaign.
"Despite these being realities of the country, when it comes to creating a much more stronger campaign around these issues, taking the message down to the grassroots levels...BJP tried to put up issues of national security...I think we failed to link national security with unemployment," he said.
"How can you have national security if a large number of Indian people are unemployed? How can you have national security if you are not having growth, not creating jobs, farmers are dying. We could not link it with unemployment, agrarian crisis. Those are also essential parts of national security. Only if there is development, will there be peace," Gogoi added.
He said results of 2019 elections were "extremely disappointing" given that the Congress had formed governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh months before and went into the election with "a lot of positive momentum".
Congress could win only 52 seats in the 2019 elections, only eight more than its 2014 tally. Gogoi is among four members of CWC who won the Lok Sabha election, the others being UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and A Chella Kumar.
CWC has over 50 members including permanent and special invitees.
Gogoi, son of former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, said unemployment, price rise remain the key issues.
Referring to the government forming cabinet committees to boost employment and economic growth, he said the Congress kept raising these issues in its campaign.
"The fact that the government had to form cabinet committees on these two issues meant that the last five years they had not done a satisfactory performance," he said.
Asked if there had been an introspection in the party following the Lok Sabha election defeat, he said: "there has been a fair amount of introspection".
"We understand what the issues are, we understand where we have to work harder and now we have to plan for the future," he said.
Asked about the road ahead for the party, he said, "we have discussed internally".
Gogoi said that the party will focus on coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Haryana. "We have Delhi (election) in 2020, we have Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam (in 2021). No doubt organisation building, getting ready for elections is very important, you will see (it) in the time to come," he said.
Asking about Congress getting weak in West Bengal, he said Congress has been traditionally strong in Murshidabad and Malda.
"Bengal elections this time became very polarised and communal. I have never seen Bengal going through such a communal, polarised election. We have to grow the party beyond the traditional districts in north Bengal," he said.
The Congress had four MPs from West Bengal in 2014 and it won two seats in 2019.
Asked about BJP gaining ground in West Bengal and lack of clarity in Congress stance vis-a-vis Trinamool Congress with some of its state leaders strongly opposed to the ruling party in the state, he said Trinamool Congress should decide what it intends to do to preserve the secular fabric of the state.
He said Congress won 44 seats in the 2016 Assembly polls and many of the MLAs were pressurised to join the Trinamool Congress.
"It is for Trinamool Congress to introspect because out of our 44 elected MLAs in the last election, many were intimidated to join TMC as well. It is for Trinamool Congress also to introspect what they intend to do for preserving the secular fabric of West Bengal," he said.
Gogoi said the Congress has always maintained that it will raise state issues in West Bengal and the party has held protests against both the BJP and TMC.
"In West Bengal, we will put the interests of people of West Bengal at the top. But when it comes to national issues, we are willing, on an issue-to-issue basis to talk and collaborate (with Trinamool Congress)," he said.
Asked about BJP gaining Opposition space in West Bengal, Gogoi said "definitely in this Lok Sabha (election)" they won 18 seats. "We will see what the next two years have in store," he said.
To a query about the problem of factionalism in Congress in poll-bound states, Gogoi said the party takes everyone along.
"Consensus has always been our unique formula. Congress itself means different people of diverse ideas, ideologies, backgrounds, people with a difference of opinion... That is the strength of the Congress party. Even though people in various states might have a different opinion on how to strengthen the party, the fact is we are all loyal Congressmen, we are all loyal to Congress values and we all want to see a stronger Congress and serve the people of respective states," he said.