‘Sole objective of fighting this election is to save and redeem the soul of the nation’

The Congress candidate for the Chandigarh Lok Sabha seat says what happened during the recent mayoral elections was only a trailer of things to come if the BJP comes back to power at the Centre

May 01, 2024 01:24 am | Updated 02:36 am IST - CHANDIGARH

Congress candidate from Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency, Manish Tewari, being welcomed by party supporters in Chandigarh.

Congress candidate from Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency, Manish Tewari, being welcomed by party supporters in Chandigarh. | Photo Credit: ANI

As the Union Territory of Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, goes to poll on June 1, Congress candidate Manish Tewari, a former Union Minister and currently a Member of Parliament from Punjab’s Anandpur Sahib constituency, is toiling to wrest the seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In an interview with The Hindu, Mr. Tewari, a two-time MP, says that the 2024 Lok Sabha poll is an existential election for India. Edited excerpts:

How do you see the 2024 Lok Sabha poll?

This is an existential election for India. I am firmly convinced that this could be the last election in this country, if those who are in power at the Centre were to succeed, which, given the ground reality, looks difficult at this point in time. This is an election that I am fighting to protect democracy, to protect the Constitution of India… they [the BJP leaders] have been very explicit about their intentions that they would scrap the Constitution and replace it with something of their own. In Chandigarh, people witnessed what happened during the mayoral elections. Someone had the vote, and someone else became the Mayor. And the Supreme Court had to exercise its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 142 to preserve democracy in general. So this is something which resonates very strongly with the people because they have seen it unfolding right before their eyes… this was only a trailer of what is in store for us.

Why Chandigarh?

I have represented Ludhiana (Punjab) in the past, I represent the adjoining constituency of Sri Anandpur Sahib;  I think I have acquitted myself fairly over the five years. It was the party’s decision to shift me to Chandigarh. I too wanted to serve the city where I was born, went to school, college, and university, where my father was assassinated by terrorists on April 3, 1984, and where my mother spent her entire working life. There is an intrinsic connection that I have with the city. And incidentally, I am perhaps the only candidate since 1967, when Chandigarh started having a Lok Sabha election, who was actually born in this city. So, even though my opponent targets me for being an “outsider”,  the fact is that if there is a legatee to Chandigarh, it is me.

Between the Congress and its potential allies, do you think your party is able to formulate a united front in terms of ideas and mobilisation?

Putting together a pre-poll coalition is easier said than done, but despite the hiccups the INDIA bloc has managed fairly. Those who decided not to get into a pre-poll arrangement, I think would do post-poll alliance because you actually fall on the same side of the fence. When you have parties that have contradictions, ground coordination is laborious. But so far we seem to be doing alright. The Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had a joint meeting that has sent a positive message. Within the Congress there are contradictory voices. For example, on inheritance tax, wealth redistribution, caste census etc. What’s your take? The Congress’s position is spelt out in its manifesto, which is the last authoritative word as far as the party is concerned. Yes, we don’t follow a regimented-Hitlerian discipline, where people don’t articulate their point of views, but those are personal views. 

The Congress is fighting in alliance with AAP in Chandigarh, but contesting against it in Punjab. How difficult is it to convince people of this contradiction?

It is not as much of a contradiction. Historically, we have been fighting polls against the Left in Kerala but we have been cooperating at the national level. Even in West Bengal, we fought against the Trinamool Congress but cooperated at the national level. In north India, it’s a new experiment. During my campaign, I explained to the people why we are fighting together here [in Chandigarh] and separately there [in Punjab]. The sole objective of [fighting] this election is to save and redeem the soul of the nation.

The voting percentage has been relatively low in the first phase of Lok Sabha poll...

More people need to come out and vote. But a low turnout does not necessarily reflect pro-incumbency. It is reflective of a fatigue with the incumbent national government. People who supported the government previously are not coming out in large numbers.

To strengthen the city’s public transport, would you push for a metro rail service, which was opposed by BJP MP Kirron Kher?

In 2019, when I was an MP from Sri Anandpur Sahib, I had written to Union Minister of Roads and Highways Nitin Gadkari, suggesting a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) from Ambala to Landran to Panchkula. The reason I suggested such a wide expanse was that it would harness the created potential of the Tricity [Chandigarh-Panchkula-Mohali]. More importantly, it would bring financial viability as well for the project. The solution to exponentially growing traffic is an efficient and efficacious MRTS.

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