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Anand Sharma: Viable mechanism needed to revive Congress; Rahul, Sonia integral to solution

Senior Congress leader and deputy Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma speaks to The Indian Express on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s decision to resign and the need to fix accountability within the party.

Written by Manoj C G | Updated: June 29, 2019 9:19:50 am
Anand sharma interview on congress, rahul gandhi and leadership crisis Anand Sharma, Deputy leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

It has been a month since the election results came out but there has been no honest introspection and fixing of accountability. Why?

The big defeat in the election has been a major setback. Party leaders and workers are demoralised and disappointed. There is need now to take corrective actions to revitalise the party. Outcome of the election is because of a combination of factors, not one. There is need for dispassionate, objective and honest evaluation, introspection to identify all the factors and shortcomings…then only we can take those decisions which will help us to strengthen the Congress as grassroots. There should not be any knee jerk responses and you cannot look for scapegoats. It is a collective responsibility of all who were associated with the election work – the campaign committees, manifesto committees and also the committees in the states.

But what went wrong?

Elections as the Congress party was preparing after the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.. the calculations and the factors on the ground changed after the cynical exploitation of the national emotion and sentiments post-Pulwana terror attack which shocked the country. The Government was responsible and had to give an account as to why despite high alerts such a terrible tragedy took place. But that was used to fast track an agenda which the BJP and the Prime Minister had in mind to change the narrative and to reap electoral benefits. Yet we were not expecting such results because there was no visible undercurrent in the Hindi heartland, no indications. It is time for us to look all factors. The Prime Minister and the BJP exploited the national sentiment to completely change the narrative and deflect attention from their own betrayal of the people. There was no mention of jobs, economy, farmers, the entire focus was on hyper nationalism and patriotism…Their priority was to win an election.

But what about fixing of accountability?

Accountability is a collective, both at the state level and at the national level. You cannot pick few individuals and say that is where the accountability is. Not only an introspection, it has to be an honest and objective analysis. We have suffered a big defeat in the Hindi heartland, then what is the state of the organisation. That is a very important factor…irrespective of the induction of modern technology, the digital media and social media, I am still of this considered view that any political campaigning still will have the conventional mode as integral. The Congress party fought as hard as the BJP in the social media, but there is a huge gap between us and them when it comes to the resources. Unprecedented money power and resources were at the disposal of the BJP. They had literally monopolised the electronic and the print media. But I will not attribute the mandate only to that. Their message connected.

Also read | Flurry of resignations as leadership crisis deepens young-vs-old faultlines in Congress

Your message was not up to the mark?

BJP picked up on few things to magnify, distort, misrepresent and exploit. They picked couple of things from our manifesto to attack us. In hindsight we may say that given the timing and given the fact that they were fighting on a different agenda, perhaps we could have been careful.

You are referring to mention of AFSPA and sedition law in the manifesto?

Yes. The BJP exploited that.

You could have avoided mentioned those in the manifesto.

Yes, because there narrative was nationlism, patriotism, surgical strike, Pulwama, Balakot.

Then how did these issues came in the manifesto?

I was not privy to this. But as a Congress leader we take collective responsibility for this, but I am being honest in saying that the BJP did magnify, distort and exploit the words.

So it was a mistake?

It was avoidable. Let me say that. These issues need to be discussed perhaps not for a national election in a charged atmosphere.

What about management of elections. There is much criticism about some people who were running the show?

Well yes. There were people who had experience of the past elections. There were individuals who were new. It always happens. Some shortcomings will remain. You cannot claim perfection. But one thing I will say that because of the resource crunch we could not disseminate as strongly our message and as quickly as we should have. The NYAY scheme was very good.

Also read | Rahul Gandhi ‘unhappy’ with state Congress chiefs not taking responsibility after poll defeat

But announced late?

Yes. Because the people in the villages and farmers…I don’t know how many were we able to connect with the message. The PM Kisan (programme).. they went into an overdrive and ensured that the two installments were given. How much it influenced, I cannot reach a conclusion because we will have to go in for state wide analysis.

The Congress continues to be in a state of flux. Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that he does not want to continue as Congress president. Why are you not able to resolve the issue?

The party leadership is fully conscious of the gravity of the situation. It is a challenging situation. The Congress president worked tirelessly, he campaigned hard and this situation of uncertainty is because the Working Committee has collectively, unanimously rejected the offer and urged Rahul Gandhi to continue as the Congress president. Congress leaders or the Working Committee continue to have the same opinion. It is true that some viable mechanism has to be created to ensure that the organisation is fully revived and the shortcomings which were observed at different levels, right up to the booth level, in the organisational structures are corrected at the earliest so that the Congress is battle ready again. And that mechanism or whatever the structure is Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi…they will be integral and also to the solution. You cannot have a solution without Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

But he says I don’t want to continue?

I am sure that he will very much be there along with Sonia for whatever the viable mechanism…The Congress in its collective wisdom will address this challenge. Rahul Gandhi will be actively campaigning for the party….He is much in demand. When the assembly elections come you will see.

Many people believe this uncertainty is hurting the party.

The Congress party has the resilience and the capacity to do the course correction and revive itself at the grassroots…

When will it happen?

It will happen. Senior colleagues are talking. Many have talked to Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. I am sure collectively we will find a way forward.

But there is a crisis, a leadership vaccum?

Well, as of today yes. We have not been able to persuade him (Rahul) so far or his refusal to take back his proposal to quit…But there is also another finality of the Working Committee resolution…now the party in its collective wisdom will have to resolve the issue which I am sure the party has the capacity to do….Congress is also bound by the Working Committee resolution. We have a piquant situation. But to think that the party is in a limbo is not true.

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