Sanjay Nirupam: High Command asked me to revive Congress in Mumbai and that is what I am doing

Beleaguered Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam says party's bad image cost it dearly in Lok Sabha polls, insists he knows how to win elections and oust the Sena-BJP combine from the BMC

As Rahul Gandhi visits Mumbai during probably the Congress’s darkest hour in the state, all eyes are on Sanjay Nirupam.

The Mumbai Congress chief is in the eye of a storm following mid-day’s reports about the party mouthpiece carrying strong articles critical of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Adding to Nirupam’s misery is the recent infighting, with party leaders coming to blows days ahead of Gandhi’s visit.

The mid-day report that landed Sanjay Nirupam, editor of Congress Darshan, in a soup
The mid-day report that landed Sanjay Nirupam, editor of Congress Darshan, in a soup

Amid all the chaos, Nirupam has quietly gone about planning Gandhi’s visit, which is expected to kick-start the year-long build up to the February 2017 BMC elections in the city.

In this exclusive interview to mid-day, Nirupam speaks about the controversies and challenges in the months ahead. He brushed aside the appalling showing of the Congress in recent elections, saying it was due to the party’s bad image and had nothing to do with him. Firmly believing that he has the party high command’s backing despite calls for his head, he has one answer for detractors: “I am here to stay.”

Sanjay Nirupam

Excerpts:

Q. The party’s disciplinary committee has issued a notice to you following the Congress Darshan fiasco and people are demanding your sacking...
A. The party’s senior leadership has taken a decision to appoint me as president, and till the time I am allowed to work, I will work. I am not bothered about all this.

Q. But too many controversies have happened in the past few days, including the fracas inside the Congress office. What disciplinary action are you going to take against errant leaders?
A. Whatever is happening, our high command and leadership is well aware and they will take appropriate action. I won’t comment on it. My job is to take everybody on board and I am trying to take everybody on board. My target is the BMC election as a city president, and I want to win the election.

Q. But the party is in the doldrums. You yourself lost the elections, despite being one of the most visible Members of Parliament. And with the Congress getting wiped out in Mumbai in the Lok Sabha elections, why do you think people will vote for you in the BMC elections?
A. As far as my work is considered, it is unbeatable; nobody can challenge that. Nobody can compete with me. Yes, something that went wrong (in the LS polls). I don’t know what, but there was a mood among the people against the Congress party, they wanted to defeat us at any cost. In the whole process, the BJP came up, Narendra Modi came up as a face and he made tall promises… promises that cannot be fulfilled. But in the mood to defeat the Congress party, people believed in Modi. Finally, after one and a half years, the people are repenting. Basically Modi mobilised the people against the Congress party.

Q. Though the party is beginning to become more visible, many have spoken out against you, saying this is not how the Congress works. Are you bringing in Sena style of politics into the Congress?
A. In the last 10 months I have brought the party on to the streets. We have always hit the streets whenever there is any issue concerning the people. That is primarily the job of the opposition party. We are nowhere in power now, we are in the opposition. It is our job to raise issue. I am not carrying out any violent protests. While I was doing all this, everyone should have come on board in the interest of party but if someone is not agreeing with this and there is a dispute with the approach of the Mumbai Congress president, then that’s a different thing. But I have the mandate from Delhi to revive Mumbai Congress and that is what I am doing, reviving the party in every nook and corner.

Q. As Mumbai president, your biggest test will be the BMC elections. What is your strategy?
A. As far as BMC elections are concerned, this time I hope we will make it. All the problems Mumbaikars face are supposed to be solved by the BMC — be it water, gutter, school or road. The Sena-BJP combine has been in power for the last 22 years, but they cannot give water for 24 hours. Even birth certificates and death certificates cannot be procured without paying a bribe. Mumbaikars are fed up, and I understand their pain. On that basis, I will carry out aggressive campaign against the Sena-BJP, and I have a plan for it. I have a vision document and I know how to win elections.

Q. You claim you want to win BMC elections and do good for people, but when the open space policy was passed on Wednesday, despite a whip issued, most of your corporators remained absent. Do you have any control?
A. I had taken a press conference a month ago and I had said we oppose the open space policy. Our stand is clear. But when open space policy came up and even after whip being issued corporators aren’t coming then I will have to take serious action. I will ask my leader of the opposition in the house to give a report on who all were not present and why and, if deliberately someone is becoming part of the Shiv Sena-BJP conspiracy, I will not tolerate it. We will take action. Open space policy is against Mumbaikars.

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