With the nation set to go to the polls in 2024, political parties have already started preparing for the all-important Lok Sabha elections.
While the Congress is covering the length and breadth of the country with its 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', the BJP too is in action mode to ensure painting the nation with saffron colour for the third successive term.
Speaking exclusively with IANS, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ramdas Athawale, claimed that the BJP will will win 350 seats in 2024, while the NDA's tally will touch the 400-mark.
Also targeting Rahul Gandhi and his Bharat Jodo Yatra, the President of the Republican Party of India said that he (Rahul Gandhi) might have grown his beard, but that won't help the Congress grow the number of seats in 2024, as the Yatra will make no difference.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: The year 2022 is nearing its end. How did the year go for your ministry? What were the achievements?
A: This year, we introduced many policies for the SC, OBC and De-notified Tribes (DNTs). We also introduced policies under the Accessible India Campaign or Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan, which is a programme for the differently-able community of the country.
Similarly, we have pension policies for the elderly. We have three commissions under our ministry -- for the Schedule Caste, Other Backward Class and Safai Mazdoor. We keep working on such policies so that people can get benefits from them.
Q: What are the major plans of the ministry for 2023?
A: We have appointed the Rohini Commission under which there is 27 per cent reservation for OBCs, but the DNTs are demanding separate reservation. Though this falls under the OBC category, the DNT community is not getting any benefits from the commission. So there are talks regarding categorisation of this 27 per cent reservation system.
Also, we have given 10 per cent reservation to economically weaker sections in jobs and admission, whose annual family income is below Rs 8 lakh and who don't fall under SC/ST/OBC categories. Any family from any caste falls in this category and can avail benefits of this policy.
We have also appointed a three-member commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, to consider the possibility of granting SC status to 'new persons who have historically belonged to the Scheduled Castes', but have converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. He has also been given the responsibility to study Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians and submit a report within six months.
Q: India is hosting the G20 meet next year. What will be the contribution of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment?
A: We are in the process of chalking out new programmes for the G20 meet. We will come up with new ideas.
Besides, we have a scheme of overseas scholarship under which we give scholarships to Schedule Caste students to go aboard and study. This year, we sent 125 students abroad and we are targeting to ramp up the numbers next year.
Q: The 2024 Lok Sabha elections are not far away, and the Republican Party of India is in alliance with the BJP. What are you thoughts about the upcoming general elections?
A: In 2024, we are targeting 350+ seats for the BJP, while the NDA should win 400+ seats. In 2019, BJP had got 303 seats alone, so the target is more this time. The Republican Party of India is fully with the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds good thoughts about Babasaheb Ambedkar. He has vowed to strengthen the Constitution framed by Ambedkar. His ideology of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, Sabka Prayaas' is appreciable.
The Prime Minister's vision of 'Aatamnirbhar Bharat' is incomparable. He is a global leader. He has taken the country's economy to a new level. Leaders like Rahul Gandhi cannot even face Modi in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Q: The opposition parties seem to be coming together for the next general elections, just like like they formed the Mahagathbandhan in 2019. What is your take on this?
A: It is hard for all the opposition parties to come together. Also, every party wants the PM candidate to be from their party. Even if they come together, facing PM Modi will be tough for them. The Prime Minister not only has the support of the NDA, he also enjoys the support of the common people. He is running a good government.
Q: Rahul Gandhi's popularity seems to be growing with the Bharat Jodo Yatra that his drawing good crowd. Do you think it will make any difference in 2024?
A: This is not Bharat Jodo Yatra, but 'Bharat Todo Yatra'. If Congress wanted to do Bharat Jodo, they could have done it during its 70-year rule. But what they did was 'Bharat Todo'.
Also, Rahul Gandhi should first work on 'Congress Jodo' instead. Yes, the Yatra is drawing large crowds, but that will not translate into votes in favour of the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has grown his beard, but Congress' seats will not grow.