March 15, 2022 4:40:25 am
Former Union Minister and member of Congress ginger group G-23 KAPIL SIBAL speaks to MANOJ CG.
Congress has suffered yet another defeat. We saw an old script play out at the CWC meeting Sunday. Are you surprised by the defeat and the developments in the CWC?
The results never surprised me. We have been going downhill since 2014. We have lost state after state. Even where we succeeded we were not been able to keep our flock together. In the meantime, there has been an exodus of some key people…those who had the confidence of the leadership… moving away from the Congress. In the 2022 Assembly elections, too, people who were close to the leadership left them. I was looking at the figures. It is really interesting to note that since 2014, about 177 MPs and MLAs and 222 candidates have left the Congress. No other political party has seen this kind of exodus.
We have suffered humiliating defeats from time to time. The percentage of votes in the states that we hope to be relevant in is almost negligible. In Uttar Pradesh, we have 2.33% percent of the vote share. This doesn’t surprise me. We are unable to connect with the electorate. We are unable to lead from the front, unable to reach out to people. Our accessibility is the subject matter of public debate. As Ghulam Nabi Azad said yesterday a leader must have the attributes of accessibility, accountability and acceptability. Ever since 2014, there is absence of accountability, decreasing acceptability and little attempt to increase accessibility. That’s the real problem. So the results have not surprised me.
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And the CWC
What happened in the CWC yesterday also did not surprise me. For a party after eight years, since 2014, to say that we will have a Chintan Shivir to find out the reasons for this debacle, if for eight years a political party and the leadership is not aware of the reasons for its decline; is awaiting for a Chintan Shivir to find out, is living in cuckoo land: Keeping its eyes shut to the reality that confronts us. This struggle is not qua the Congress party. The Congress represents a thought process. The word Congress comes from togetherness. The original Congress was born out of someone who did not belong to the Hindu religion. And in this Congress, under that umbrella, everybody was deeply involved and committed to that thought process…the power structures were so organised that within that umbrella, everyone participated. That is why in the Congress Party, history has it that every year the President used to change. It’s only recently that we have had this long tenure.
The people in the CWC, the prominent leaders of our party in the CWC barring a few exceptions, feel maybe genuinely, that without the Gandhi family, it’s not possible for the Congress to survive. That’s a possible point of view. It’s not a point of view that many of us share. We won’t survive if it is business as usual. We, some of us, tried very hard to convey to the leadership that it is time to reform our processes and revive the Congress and take it to its original glory. I speak today not because I have any angst against any individual. Not because I am anti-A, B or C. I speak today because I am pro-Congress. I will never, will never join another party and over my dead body, the BJP. I will remain in my thoughts and actions a true Congressman but I cannot see the Congress decline and lose its glory in this fashion because people are not willing to listen.
Yesterday, some leaders including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot asked Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress president. The CWC too reaffirmed its faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. So the voices from inside the Congress are different from those outside.
The CWC is inside of the Congress? The members of the CWC are nominees of the leadership. There is a Congress outside the CWC…kindly listen to their views, if you choose to. So when you’re talking about people outside the Congress, you’re excluding people who are within the Congress, but outside CWC. I hope I am included in one of them. I am not outside the Congress. I am in the Congress. But I am not in the CWC. Lots of leaders like us who are not in the CWC but in the Congress have an entirely different point of view. Is it that we don’t matter because we are not in the CWC? Therefore the CWC, according to them, represents the Congress Party in India. I don’t think that’s correct. There are lots of congressmen around the country, people from Kerala, from Assam, from Jammu and Kashmir, from Maharashtra, from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, who don’t hold that point of view.
So the Congress outside the CWC, including yourself, believe that it is time for the Gandhis to step aside?
I cannot talk on behalf of others. It is purely my personal view that today at least I want a ‘sab ki Congress’. Some others want a ‘Ghar ki Congress’. I certainly don’t want a ‘Ghar ki Congress’. And I will fight for a ‘sab ki Congress’ till my last breath. This ‘sab ki Congress’ means just not getting together, but getting together all those people in India who don’t want the BJP. You take in the viewpoints of everybody, you expand your footprint in such a way that all those forces for change, who are against this autocratic capture of all institutions in this country…all those must come together. Mamata Banerjee was a Congresswoman . Sharad Pawar was a Congressman. All congressmen who have moved away, they must come together. There are millions of people in this country who don’t belong to any political party, but whose thought processes are aligned to the Congress thought process of inclusiveness, of togetherness, of peace, of harmony, of change for the future, and for the betterment of ordinary people…doing away with poverty, doing away with illiteracy. There are millions of people who believe in that. They are also through their thought processes Congressmen. That’s what I call ‘sab ki Congress’. Some people have expressed their views that there can be no Congress without A, B or C. Obviously, they believe that ‘sab ki Congress’ cannot survive without ‘ghar ki Congress’. That’s the challenge. This is not against A, B or C.
You asked me a question that many people have said Rahul Gandhi should take the reins of power again… I don’t understand that at all. Those who say this have obviously not thought this through. We are assuming now that Rahul Gandhi is not the president of the Congress and Mrs Gandhi is. Rahul Gandhi went to Punjab and made the announcement that Charanjit Singh Channi will be the Chief Minister. In what capacity did he do that? He is not the president of the party, but he takes all the decisions. He is already the de-facto president. So why are they asking him that he should take back the reins of power. So they want the de facto president to become the de-jure president but it doesn’t matter, he is the de facto president.
So who should be blamed for the continuous slide of the Congress?
In any structure, there must be an amalgamation of new faces, of the young, of the experienced…those who have the capacity to organize, those who have the capacity to articulate, those who have the capacity to philosophize, those who have the capacity to deliver, those who work on the ground, those who inspire…it is an amalgamation of all this.
What we see is the absence of organization at the ground level. No real attempts to remedy that have been taken in the past. All powers are concentrated in the leadership. No decentralization of power on the ground. Even the appointments of PCCs and DCCs…names are given to the leadership and they are appointed. They don’t have direct contact with them. In this power structure, therefore, the organization is bereft of any vision. This is my personal belief. And this is true of all political parties. Morality has become irrelevant in politics.
Leaders say one thing today and say the opposite tomorrow. Some say they will not take an official car, official residence, will live in a small flat, will make sure that nobody is corrupt but all this is dishonest rhetoric. They start building palatial houses. Suddenly people close to them become rich…The battle that we have to fight is against the Modi regime. It’s not a battle that we should fight within the Congress. The Congress should be together to fight the Modi regime. But if you can’t even keep your house in order, how will you fight the Modi regime?
So are you saying that none of the Congress leaders are asking the Gandhis to step aside because they are all handpicked by the leadership?
You don’t expect the Chief Ministers to come and say that you should not lead the party.
But it used to happen in the past.
It used to be an open discussion on issues. Sometimes not a very pleasant one , but it never used to be personal. We were not asking for the moon. We waited long enough. Patience is a great virtue. But after a while if you continue to be patient without hope, then it’s a failing. It amounts to self-deceit: To continue to be patient when there is no hope. When the leadership is not going to reach out to you to even have a constructive, meaningful dialogue then there is no hope.
So the leadership has not spoken to you.
Forget about me. Who are these so-called G 23? Forget me, the others are stalwarts. They are people of national stature. They have been at the forefront of many political battles. They matter in national politics. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan, Bhupinder Hooda, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Raj Babbar. If they all feel that there is need for reforms, that we should have an open process of election, where the AICC is not handpicked, that we should not have a 50 or 60 member working committee some of them who have no real national standing, that we should have a central election committee of eminence, have a working committee of elected members.
If even those minimal reforms consistent with the provisions of the Congress constitution are not accepted and there is no dialogue, forget about acceptance, then how do we fight the battle against Modi. We can’t fight. If you’re not even willing to listen to people of such eminence…some of them are good enough to actually lead the party. If you jettison them, if you have no dialogue with them, we will continue to perform badly in the years to come.
So what should the leadership do now?
The leadership by now should have introspected. That ‘chintan’ should all have been done in their minds. And they should allow someone else to lead. Give someone else a chance. Sunil Gavaskar, for example, had to retire one day. Here we’re not dealing with Gavaskars. Sachin Tendulkar had to retire one day. Until yesterday, Virat Kohli was the captain of the team. The names of all three will be written in golden letters in the cricketing history of the world. They too had to retire. They had to also move away. So if men of great excellence also, at some stage, think that it is time to go, then surely, after the debacles that we have seen, the leadership should leave this space for somebody else who will be elected and not nominated. Allow that person to perform.
But Congress leaders say no other person can keep the party united.
How do people build a party…by giving others a chance. You build an organisation by allowing it to change its leadership from time to time. Change is the only constant. Anybody who revels in the status quo is against the march of time. Anybody who revels in the status quo is against the flow of history. You can’t do that, especially in politics. They have to voluntarily move away. A body nominated by them will never tell them that they should not continue to hold the reins of power.
Therefore, they themselves must decide and give someone else a chance, and witness how he or she performs. That someone else will be elected, not nominated. Elected by an AICC, which should also be an elected body, not a nominated body. Unless that happens, there is very little hope. An argument can be made that it doesn’t happen in other parties. It’s true. But in other parties there are leaders who have led from the front and, in fact, brought the party to a level of relevance by their own efforts. Mrs Indira Gandhi did that. She led from the front. Nehru led from the front. They were always acceptable to the rank and file of the party, because they always led from the front. If recent events had shown that our leaders had led from the front, why would anybody want change. But the events that have transpired have shown that they have not been able to lead from the front.
Do you believe Mr Rahul Gandhi is incompetent?
This is not about individuals. There is no personal element involved in this dialogue. This is about the party and the future of the party. I am not here to criticize anybody. I will never do so. But it is a matter of great concern for a person like me, who does not want the golden legacy of the Congress to become extinct and become a footnote in the history of political parties. We don’t want that to happen. We want the Congress to revive. Ironically, those who believe in the Congress are outside the radar of the leadership, and those who looked for personal gain, had no belief in the real values of the Congress party and who have left the Congress, were their close confidants.
That’s the difference. No matter what happens as a consequence of this interview, doesn’t matter. I will remain a Congressman. Who is a congressman? He who believes in inclusiveness, in dialogue, taking everybody along, shuns hatred for any class of people, has no individual agendas, is willing to sacrifice his time for the good of the party, seeks to build alliances across all stratas of society, Dalits, minorities, and absorbs within him or her all the colors that represent India. That’s what the Congress is. That’s what we need to protect.
Who can take over if the Gandhis step aside?
That is a question you should never ask. Take a mature democracy like Great Britain. Has a leader who has lost in the election ever come back? Name one person in the history of the British Parliament who has lost and has come back. Have they asked the question who after me? They never come back. The same in European democracies.
So it can be anybody?
It can be anybody who is acceptable to an elected AICC, not a nominated AICC. For the Congress not to take advantage of Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari in the Lok Sabha is something that I cannot ever imagine as to why that has not been done. A Congress party which does not use the talent of P Chidambaram not just in commenting about the budget and drafting resolutions for the party…his talent is far beyond that. For the Congress party not to use him in Rajya Sabha to be able to lead from the front…
The Congress party is not using the assets that it has for the rejuvenation of the party. If the Congress party thinks like that, how can that Congress party ever hope to reclaim its past glory? At an individual level, there are no problems with the leadership. They are very courteous, very nice. But we are talking about politics. I have to also accept the fact that Mrs Gandhi played a key role rejuvenating the Congress in the 1990s after Sitaram Kesri left. Her efforts have to be recognised for bringing the party to power in 2004 and then in 2009. But look at what has happened since then.
You mentioned an elected AICC. The organisational election process is underway. Do you think it is not going to be fair?
We should have a central election committee to oversee that process. That was one of our demands, so that we can make sure that we have a fully elected, independent AICC. If you have a truly representative central election committee, a parliamentary board, an elected CWC…and if you reach out to everybody…you would not need a ‘chintan shivir’.
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