Former Union minister and senior Congress leader Ashwani Kumar speaks to Manoj CG about why the demands for internal elections are misplaced, and the way forward to rejuvenate the party.
There are demands for internal elections and elections to the CWC. Your comments?
Elections in their very nature, considering in particular the way Congress is structured, can be divisive and debilitating. I sincerely feel at this point of time, when the party is facing many challenges, we should not embark upon an exercise that is potentially divisive. Mrs Gandhi’s leadership has unanimous approval within the party. It is only fair for us to trust her judgement to put together an effective leadership structure consisting of people with known acceptability, capability and intellectual integrity. This talk of election is nothing more than shadow boxing because the result that is intended is not guaranteed because the constitution of the electoral college – namely the AICC – for elections to the CWC itself is the result of a political consensus hammered within the party by the Congress president. The Congress over several decades functioned on the basis of political consensus, which I think is the correct approach. You can’t have elections for the sake of appeasing a particular set of people.
Shadow boxing, appeasing some people — what is in your mind?
I hear some whispers of people insisting on elections. I am not against elections as long as they achieve a desired result of rejuvenating the party. But the way this campaign is being built, its timing, and considering that the end purpose doesn’t seem to be clear… In the Congress’s scheme of things, the entire structure is based upon political consensus hammered out at various levels from the block to the AICC. As long as the electoral college itself is not constituted through an election, what kind of an election result can you expect by having elections in the AICC?
How long can it be business as usual? Sonia Gandhi made way for Rahul Gandhi, then she returned and now talk is about Rahul coming back.
It is quite clear that it cannot be business as usual. This message is not lost to anybody, particularly the Congress president. I have no doubt that she is deliberating on these issues with all seriousness… My view is that we cannot take any voter or party sympathiser for granted. We have to win people’s confidence by speaking their language in an idiom that gels well with them. The Congress should become a party of social transformation and national renewal. Its politics should be anchored in soaring idealism, not expediency. We should be seen as a party that not only hears but listens, particularly to the silences in the party. We should recognise the difference between dissent and dissidence.
Where is the party going wrong when it comes to raising issues?
We cannot anchor our political strategy exclusively in saying what is wrong with the BJP. Of course, that is an essential part of every opposition party’s functioning… we have the duty to oppose, expose and depose… but alongside that we must give an alternative narrative. The real challenge is to have one core issue around which an alternative can be built. We can’t lose ourselves in peripheral issues that have transitory resonance.
What is that issue?
That is freedom, inclusion, liberty, dignity and justice. We have seen in the last few years the entire atmosphere in the country is going in an undesirable direction.
Do you think people relate to these issues?
They do. I may be in a minority or I may be in a majority as far as this view is concerned… but I continue to hold this view. Why did the Congress lose in 1977 even under Indira Gandhi’s towering leadership – only on the issue of liberty and dignity and freedom.
That was 1977.
The issues don’t go away. The fundamental principles don’t change. The values of the republic are sacrosanct.
Is it time for Rahul Gandhi to come back as Congress president?
The decision has to be left to the Congress president and CWC. Rahul Gandhi has expressed his views… if and when he is ready to accept the presidentship I am sure the party will welcome him.
The confusion at the top is said to have left many leaders disheartened and some have left the party?
We can always find an excuse to be disheartened. Everybody literally begged Mrs Gandhi to assume leadership when Rahul resigned… I don’t think there is a vacuum in the leadership structure. What she needs to do is review the functioning of the leadership structures at all levels and put a healthy blend of youthful energy and wisdom and experience in a combination that will inspire confidence among people.
What are the reasons for the decline of the Congress?
All political parties have ups and downs. The case of the BJP in 1984 is known to all. However, we need to introspect on the reasons why we lost political space to the BJP. The party must marshal thought leaders with personal and intellectual credibility as also political weight to fight the battle of ideas and reclaim the mind space ceded to political opponents. Leaders who are hurt should be reached out to and not left to nurse their hurt in isolation… The Congress must find ways to ensure that legitimate grievances of party persons are not allowed to fester. For this, easy access to the leadership personally or through a designated person is necessary.