Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram on Saturday said the Congress’s current organisational structure is “no match for that of the BJP and RSS”. Speaking to Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien at a discussion held in St Xavier’s college in Kolkata during the launch of his book Fearless in Opposition: Power and Accountability, the senior Congress leader deftly evaded questions thrown at him by O’Brien on the issue of leadership in the Congress after the 2017 Assembly elections.
“You are a state party with a minor presence in Tripura and some other places. But as a national party, a national election is not one but 29 elections in various states, for which you need 29 different strategies. You can’t have the same strategy that you have for Kerala to work in Tamil Nadu. This is a difficult and complex task. You (the TMC) just need one strategy. We need 29,” said Chidambaram.
“Today, the one thing that is clear is that the Congress party’s organisational structure is no match for that of the BJP and RSS. It’s not just about the rallies, it’s the door-to-doors in the months leading up to the elections and ensuring that voters come out and vote on polling day. Similarly, I am sure BJP would be unable to compete with TMC’s organisational structure in Bengal,” the Congress leader said.
TMC leader Derek O Brien countered the former finance minister’s argument, saying the problem in the Opposition at present is that the senior Congress leaders are not raising issues in Parliament and leading from the front.
“None of you speak up. You expect smaller parties like us or JD(U), RJD to raise these issues. Whereas you, as the main opposition, should be doing this,” said O’Brien, adding: “The problem is, Mr.Chidambaram, that we are confused about what is going on in your party. We don’t know who is taking the decisions in your party… There is no doubt about who is taking the decisions in our party,” he said.
Chidambaram’s book, a collection of essays written over the past 52 weeks, is a “mirror to what happened to India in 2016.
“From my columns on demonetisation, on Jammu and Kashmir, you will get an idea of how the economy transitioned from January to December in 2016 because of demonetisation, or how Jammu and Kashmir — where there was relative calm in 2015 — was on the verge of complete collapse by the end of 2016,” he said.
“The space for the ruling party and the opposition is decided by the people of the country. They have given the BJP 282 and us 44, and we accept that. But this space for the opposition should be occupied fearlessly. Instead, today this space is shrinking under the present government — whether it’s the academics or researchers, or Dalits or other minorities, or NGOs and activists — their space is being encroached upon and they are today leaving in fear,” he added.
When O’Brien brought up the Trinamool Congress’ “successful land movement” in Nandigram which upstaged the previous Left Front Regime, Chidambaram said India’s political ethos has “unfortunately” not matured to the extent that opposition and protests could go beyond street protests and hunger strikes.
“This reflects that in India, the democratic process is not mature enough yet. Right after Trump’s inauguration as the US president, 100 liberal businessmen met at a resort and vowed to defeat Trump in the next election. As in Europe, Germany matured politics without having to resort to hunger strikes or street fights. I don’t see this happening in our country, but I want this to happen.
“No matter what budget is presented, chambers of commerce and business houses welcome it. In the case of RBI, whether they increase interest rates, or cut it, or do nothing whatsoever – the banks will always applaud them. That’s why I never set much store in what these chambers said,” the ex-finance minister said.
Hinting at the possibility of a “reverse merger” of TMC with Congress, Derek O Brien said Mamata Banerjee was the only leader in the country with Congress blood who still wields a large public mandate.
“In terms of a reverse merger with the Congress, is this possible Mr Chidambaram?” asked O’Brien, to which Chidambaram responded: “Who can stop any party from having national ambitions?”
O’Brien said the Congress dragged its feet when it came to protesting against the demonetisation decision.
“Demonetisation was announced on November 8. By 4 pm on November 9, we were already in the streets protesting. But your party took five weeks to decide before joining the protests,” he said.
Chidambaram further said the three objectives with which demonetisation was launched have not been met – to end black money, to end corruption and to end FICN.
“The view that Punjab voted against BJP so they voted against demonetisation, and UP voted for BJP so they voted for demonetisation – this is too simplistic a conclusion,” said the former Union finance minister.