Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Tuesday said opposition parties will come together to take on the BJP in the 2019 general elections through “some kind of a broad understanding”. His comments come at a time when the CPM and the SP have signalled their aversion to have an electoral tie-up with the Congress and some like the NCP and Trinamool Congress appear uncomfortable in accepting Rahul Gandhi at the helm of the opposition front.
Chidambaram said it was “very difficult” for the Congress to bring all opposition parties on one platform on every issue. “Some issues many will join. Many issues some will join. I think it is ambitious to expect that single-state parties which are almost seven or eight parties…. to come on to the Congress platform on every single issue.”
He was participating in a panel discussion after release of his book, Speaking Truth to Power, a collection of his columns in The Indian Express published by Rupa Publications.
Nevertheless, he said, “We will come together to fight elections in 2019 by some kind of a broad understanding …The Congress and the BJP are directly pitted against each other in only about seven states… In all other states, the Congress shares the opposition space with somebody else… or there is a regional party which is stronger than the Congress… so there will be some kind of a pre-election understanding in many states. There will be a post-election understanding in many states.”
Releasing the book, former President Pranab Mukherjee called Chidambaram one of the “three most important architects” of India’s liberalisation in 1991— the others being then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and then Deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia — under then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao’s stewardship. Chidambaram was Commerce Minister in the Rao government.
Singh and Ahluwalia heard Mukherjee with rapt attention. Also in audience were Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Manish Tewari and Abhishek Singhvi, and former Vice President Hamid Ansari.
Recalling his association with Chidambaram, as colleagues in the party and as ministers in governments, Mukherjee said, “It is not that we always agree. But that is the beauty of democracy. It has enough space to accommodate all the views, all the opinions and that is why he has assumed to speak the truth on behalf of the people who do not see eye to eye with the policies of the policy makers of the day.”
Mukherjee also decried the practice of disrupting Parliament. “I am one of the those who firmly believe that disruption in Parliament is betrayal to the commitment to the people of this country,” he said, adding that every MP got elected by seeking votes from the electorate. “After seeking the votes…thereafter finding out a theoretical proposition that disruption is an effective Parliamentary intervention … unfortunately I don’t agree,” he said.
Participating in the panel discussion with Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, Ahluwalia and journalist Shekhar Gupta, Chidambaram also rejected the proposal of simultaneous polls.
He said the Constitution not give a fixed term to any government and unless it is amended, one cannot have simultaneous elections. “What if a government falls tomorrow? You put it under President’s rule for four years. That can’t be done. This is an another of these election jumlas…one nation, one tax was a jumla..one nation, one election is a jumla,” he said.
Asked whether the Opposition’s voice is heard loudly enough, Chidambaram replied in the negative and argued, “It is a great shame that fourth estate which should be in a position where it is opposing and exposing the government … instead of that, sections of the fourth estate have become so compliant and docile.”
Gupta said it is not the job of media to provide a voice to the opposition. “It is for the opposition to bring issues of interest to the media… Congress is a very lazy party in the opposition.”
Tharoor accepted that the Congress should be doing a “little more in the streets”.
Chidambaram said the Congress cannot be written off and cited the Gujarat election. “Wait for the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh elections…,” he said, arguing that Congress will pose a formidable challenge to BJP in 2019.