Bengaluru: The year 2021 will witness a elections in southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Coming off the back of electoral defeats in Bihar and the 10 other states where bypolls were held, the Congress has a lot to think about with regard to the way forward. Senior Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao, who is currently in-charge of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Goa, gave an insight into his party's plan of action during an exclusive interview with Asianet Newsable's Correspondent Mohammed Yacoob.

Q: Six months to go for elections in key southern states and you are in-charge for both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. How confident are you about the win?

Rao: In Tamil Nadu, we are in alliance with the Dravida Munnetra Kazahagam and few other parties. In Puducherry too we have an alliance. In Puducherry, we have our own government. We are the major partners. In Tamil Nadu, it (major partner) is DMK. And these two states will be going for elections in April. In Tamil Nadu, definitely you will see a change of government. The DMK-led alliance will win this election. In Puducherry, we have had a very stable government for five years. In Puducherry, we are very confident of retaining the government. So, it is good going in both the states.

Q: You also have a task cut out for Goa where elections will happen in 2022. Last time, the BJP snatched victory from the Congress due to some goof-ups by your leaders. How confident are you this time?

Rao: I think in Goa, the BJP has got such a bad reputation -- horrible government -- that people are fed up. The Congress is strengthening itself, becoming stronger by taking up people's issues. In Goa, I think the Congress is definitely set to come back. Last time, we should have formed the government. We won the highest number of seats, but unfortunately due to various reasons -- and of course with BJP using all its unconstitutional means -- they managed to form the government there. But next (election) Goa also is a sure shot for Congress. And I think we are on a good wicket in all the three states.

Q: Puducherry has traditionally been a Congress bastion. But what is the plan for the party's growth in Tamil Nadu?

Rao: We have a good (public) opinion in Puducherry and Tamil Nadu despite the fact (in the latter) we have not been in power for more than 50 years. People of Tamil Nadu do like the Congress party -- yes, the Dravidian parties have taken center stage, we do admit. But it's not that the people dislike the Congress. We have to strengthen our party. Also, at the same time, we are in alliance with the DMK. And Stalin, the leader of DMK, has been projected as chief minister of Tamil Nadu. Under his leadership -- and of course we have stalwarts from Congress like P Chidambaram, Su Thirunavukkarasar, EVKS Elangovan, KV Thangkabalu and many other senior leaders. We also have A Chellakumar and Manicka Tagore who are disciplined functionaries of the AICC. So we have a good combination. As for the alliance, whatever seats we get this time we want to really focus on those seats. We have to try and maximise the results for Congress and also help DMK form the government.

Q: Barring Karnataka and Kerala, other southern states usually facour regional parties. So how is the Congress different? Why should people chose you and ignore the BJP?

Rao: People of Tamil Nadu do have an affection for the Congress. Right from (Jawaharlal) Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi. People (in TN) do not reject because Congress respects everyone's culture and language. Congress respects the Tamil identity. It respects the identity of Kannada or Malayalam or (that of) any other southern state. We don't try to impose (anything) on these states. States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh rejected the BJP because the ideology is such --you have to speak one language, you have to follow one religion and you have to follow one leader. You have to listen what they say and if you don't listen, you are an anti-national and you are targeted. This nobody will tolerate. 

In Karnataka, BJP is there (in power) due to various other reasons; the local regional party Janata Dal-Secular did not become strong. If the regional party had been stronger, it would have been Congress versus the regional party. But unfortunately, the JD-S, which is a national party but but more or less a regional party, has weakened themselves. So the opposite space has been given to BJP. That's why southern states generally don't like this hegemony. They don't like RSS philosophy. We may win, we may lose. We may have done mistakes, but people like the Congress because we like to take everybody together.