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Exclusive | Ashwani Kumar interview: National mood not in favour of alternative that Congress presents in terms of future leadership

Ashwani Kumar quits Congress: "The way Amarinder was humiliated… has had a negative effect on Congress. Unless we’ve all got it wrong, it is a wave election for AAP; Congress has ceased to be the mouthpiece of national aspirations and does not promise a transformative leadership to the nation."

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: February 16, 2022 6:29:06 am
Senior leader and former Union minister Ashwani Kumar quit the Congress party on Tuesday. Express Photo

Former Union minister Ashwani Kumar resigned from the Congress party Tuesday. In an interview to The Indian Express, Kumar said the future leadership that the party offers is not what the nation wants. Additionally, the endless wait for appointments with senior leaders to discuss party affairs is a very diminishing experience, he said.

Ashwani Kumar also added that he does not consider any political party a pariah and it is unfair to single out any individual for all the ills in the country.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Why did you decide to leave the Congress?

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A. This is my moment of reckoning. It was a painful decision which had to be made. I had to choose between competing loyalties, to the nation, to myself and to leaders and friends. A lot of thought has gone into the decision, which brought me to the conclusion that I cannot make a useful contribution to the public and political discourse in the country at this critical time within the framework of the Congress party. I could have either walked into the sunset or opted for the remaining years of active life in public service. I have opted for the latter. The Congress has ceased to be the mouthpiece of national aspirations and does not promise a transformative leadership to the nation, notwithstanding my personal regard for Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The internal processes of the party diminished individual leaders, which collectively debilitated the party. Hope for correctives stands belied. The spectacle in Punjab has further convinced me that the Congress has lost its moorings as a party of progressive change.

Q. You said that the Congress has ceased to be the mouthpiece of national aspirations and does not promise a transformative leadership to the nation. Why do you think so?

A. Because the continuous decline of the Congress in terms of vote percentage, in terms of popular support clearly shows that the party is out of sync with the way the nation thinks. It is the function of a political party to both gauge the national mood and where necessary to transform it. Can anybody seriously or honestly deny that this has not been the case with the Congress party.

Q. What is the national mood that you are talking about which the Congress, you believe, is going against?

A. The national mood is not in favor of the alternative that the Congress party presents to the people in terms of its future leadership.

Q. By future leadership you mean Rahul Gandhi?

A. I don’t want to take any names.

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Q. Have you at any point of time in the last seven-and -a-half years conveyed these views to the leadership…Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi?

A. I have on several occasions expressed my views in writing to the Congress president. During my long association with her, I can say that her own instincts and judgment are unexceptionable. But for some reason the stamp of her judgment is not prominent in the recent past.

“It is the function of a political party to both gauge the national mood and where necessary to transform it. Can anybody seriously or honestly deny that this has not been the case with the Congress party”. File/Express photo by Kamleshwar Singh

Q. Where is the Congress going wrong?

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A. There could be many answers to this question, but I can say that the party has lost its connect with the people, and except for a very few respected leaders, generally speaking there is a state of inertia in the party.

Q. A group of senior leaders, now known as G 23, had written to Mrs Gandhi calling for sweeping changes in the party. You were not a signatory to that letter but do you agree with their suggestions? Despite their letter, nothing has changed in the party in the last two years.

A. The way I read that letter as published in the press… its focus was only on elections within the party without touching upon the other major substantive issues that are ailing the party. It seemed as if some of those leaders were angling only for positions themselves in the higher structure of the party. And therefore, I thought that the focus was flawed.

Q. Although you have resigned from the party, what in your view… given your long association with the Congress… could be done to revive the party. Or is it a point of no return for the party?

A. You can never write the epitaph of a party as old as the Congress. There is nothing wrong with the ideology of the Congress. I do not want to give unsolicited advice anymore but what the Congress needs desperately is to bring into existence a truly collective leadership structure in which seniority and merit would be given due respect and the elders are not denuded of their dignity.

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Ashwani Kumar’s resignation letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Q. Is that happening in the Congress now?

A. Of course it is happening in the Congress. Endless waiting for appointments with senior leaders to discuss party affairs is a very diminishing experience. I don’t want to take names or talk about individuals.

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Q. Many young leaders have left the party. There was a sense that they left because they were unsure of their political future with the Congress. The party, of course, said they were opportunists… That they were looking for posts and positions. A senior leader like you… you have been an MP, minister…

A. I don’t blame them (those who left the party). I have held all the positions. I don’t need any position. Life is a test of endurance. I thought that I owed it to myself not to be a part of a diminishing experiment anymore. At the end of the day, when choices have to be made between competing loyalties, the foremost loyalty must be towards one’s own sense of right and to one’s dignity.

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Q. You spoke about the spectacle in Punjab.

A. The political discourse about the office of the chief ministership, the language used by senior leaders with reference to each other in the middle of the campaign and the way Captain Amarinder Singh was humiliated into resignation was painful and has had a very negative effect on the people of Punjab. It appears to me that unless we have all got it wrong, this is a wave election in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party. I don’t see a hung Assembly. Punjab is at the cusp of a transformative change and the election results in the state will have a major bearing on the direction of national politics.

Q. Despite consecutive Lok Sabha election defeats and a string of losses in Assembly elections, the Congress never held any serious introspection or soul-searching. There was no radical course correction or churning.

A. The answer to your very pertinent question is obvious. Nobody needs to discover the reasons for the defeat. Everybody knows the reason. The fact-finding and inquiry committees are constituted only to postpone discussion, not to find a solution. Because the causes are known.

Q. What are the causes?

A. Utter lack of inspirational leadership and emotional connect with the people. It is for the party to introspect rather than finding fault with people who are leaving the party. Why are loyal leaders leaving the party? The party should find out the reason rather than finding fault with those who are compelled by circumstances to leave the party.

“At the end of the day, when choices have to be made between competing loyalties, the foremost loyalty must be towards one’s own sense of right and to one’s dignity.” File/Express Photo by Renuka Puri

Q. Are you joining any other political party?

A. For the moment, I have not even given it a thought. What happens in the future is anyone’s guess. But I do want to state that if and when I join any other party it would be the party which gives me the most comfort, freedom of expression and respect. I do not consider any political party a pariah and it is unfair to single out any individual for all the ills in the country. All parties have some very able people and not so able.

Q. Some of the regional parties are now competing with the Congress for the leadership space of the Opposition. They believe the Congress is not in a position to lead the opposition parties or a coalition. Do you see a group of regional parties forming a front with the Congress not at the helm?

A. Politics is a function of the contextual reality of the time when decisions are required to be made. In case the Opposition which is splintered into various parties at this point of time wants to get its act together to provide an alternative to the people… the leaders of Opposition will have to shed their vanities and come together under a common banner. Who will lead this exercise will obviously be a leader in the Opposition space commanding the loyalty of the largest number of MPs. But the unification of the opposition has to happen before 2024. The numbers will come later. If Mamata Banerjee succeeds in getting 40 or 45 MPs elected and the Congress also has only 40 MPs and all the other parties vote for Mamata… obviously she will become the leader. You can’t say that unless the Congress is given the leadership of the UPA… we will not be the focus of that. The other parties will then say don’t be. Just as the SP and RLD have said that they will have no truck with the Congress… the other parties will also say no truck with you. Because those leaders at least have their states. The Congress is now in power in only three states… the Congress is going to be reduced to a party of three states. It is only slightly better than a regional party. If the AAP wins Punjab, the AAP and Congress will come at a par.

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First published on: 15-02-2022 at 12:12:59 pm
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