Interview | National

Gandhis will remain the conscience keepers of the Congress: Shashi Tharoor

Tharoor:

Tharoor: "I have not attacked anybody. I have not said anything negative about any individual or a group"   | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

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The Congress MP talks about his views on the process of electing the new Congress President, the image of the party, and whether he would have to pay the price for speaking out

Three-time Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who has publicly questioned the process of electing the new Congress President, said that the Congress Working Committee (CWC), a selected body, should alone not have the say. He has proposed that there should be an open election so that whoever takes over has the legitimacy to lead the party. He speaks to The Hindu about his views and counter-attacks on him. 

Your statements are being construed as an attack on the old guard who have been in CWC for a very long time. Was that the intent?

Not at all. There is no attack on anybody, many of these people I have known personally and I would consider some of them (CWC members) as friends and of course, respected colleagues. It's an attack on the drift or rather at the perception of drift and indecision that has unfortunately assailed the party.

What I have said completely resonates with the average Indian voter or the average Congress worker. The only ones who have sprung somewhat defensively are those who are themselves in a position of authority in the party, naturally have an obligation to defend themselves. But at the moment the crisis facing the party remains a very serious one and the risks the party faces if it doesn't resolve this crisis are illustrated by the mutterings and rumbling that you don't even have to put your ear too close to the ground to hear.

Today, we have lost a few colleagues (referring to the exit of Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh), and the only way this can be arrested is with a strong and decisive leadership. 

Today, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh joined the BJP. Do you suspect that if the drift continues for too long the exodus will only increase?

Not necessarily only to the BJP alone. Amongst the concerns I have is that we need to be a strong and viable party because many are looking for an alternative to the BJP. We can't afford to be complacent, saying that where else will they go. They will go to regional parties or some may even start their own regional party.

The Congress has to be worthy of the extraordinary image it has in this country. It's a brand name. To be a Congress candidate or a Congress official should carry with it certain set of ideas, principles, convictions and associations that link it to this 134-year-old party. The principles of inclusion, social justice are the principles that made the Congress attractive to the likes of me. I was not in any party until I came back to India after my United Nations career and joined the party. 

It is not for any individual interest. I am in a comfortable position. I have been re-elected for the next five years. My party in Kerala has crushed the Opposition. We are in a position to just sit back and say that let the Northerners remain in disarray. To me, that is not good enough. My perspective is national. And my concern is nothing to do with my career, or party position in my State, nor is it directed at anybody criticising anybody. It's just an existential question.  

General Secretary (Organisation) K.C. Venugopal, in a response to your comments, said that it is wrong to say that the party is orphaned and that the outgoing Congress President is continuing with his duties. 

Once somebody is known as the outgoing President that already limits his effectiveness. There is a difference between a nominal leadership, somebody to look at appointments and so on and an active leadership. An active leadership would be far more engaged, far more outspoken and far more visible than Rahul Gandhi has chosen himself to be.

Mr. Gandhi has made it clear that he has left the position. In fact, the favourite heckle of the BJP to Congress MPs is 'who is your President?' Every time a circular is issued in the name of Congress President, this is the kind of question that comes up. 

Even if the party was to accept your prescription and the Congress gets an elected President, how can such a person work alongside a powerful karyakarta like Rahul Gandhi? 

 

Whoever takes the position, he or she has to have the cooperation of the Gandhi parivar because the DNA of the party is inextricably tied up to them. It's pretty clear that the Gandhi parivar does not want to be involved in the day-to-day running of the party. Rahul Gandhi has conveyed through his actions that he is genuinely making space for somebody to take over.  

What about the alternate power centre, we have seen such alternate centre emerge during P.V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh's regimes as Prime Minister.

I don't think anybody in the Congress would see themselves functioning in hostility or opposition to the Gandhi parivar. All I am saying is I don't think that the Gandhi parivar seems to expect that whoever functions is going to knock on their door for permission to function. They will be the conscience keepers of the party. The moment the Congress President takes a position that is inimical to the party's ethos they will speak out.

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 16/04/2019:: Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Thiruvananthapuram Candidate Shashi Tharoor and Attingal Candidate Adoor Prakash during an election public meeting in Thiruvananthapuram

Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 16/04/2019:: Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Thiruvananthapuram Candidate Shashi Tharoor and Attingal Candidate Adoor Prakash during an election public meeting in Thiruvananthapuram   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

 

It's like in the old days, before independence if the Congress President did something and Mahatma Gandhi conveyed disapproval that was enough for the President to understand.  

The last time Congress had an election for its President was 18 years back. Do you think the party has in itself to put up a candidate and will the people be willing to contest for the post for the fear of ruffling the feathers? 

Your question pre-supposes that there is a pre-determined outcome. My answer to you is that if there was a pre-determined outcome by the Gandhi parivar that person would have been in office weeks ago.  

We don't see anyone coming forward? 

There is no process in which you can throw your name. I can think of three or four very smart, energetic party people who would like to be part of such a contest. Whether they do that is ultimately up to them.

Lots of people have been coming and speaking to me. These conversations are taking place behind closed doors for several weeks now. Once Rahul Gandhi made it clear in his letter that he meant it. And thereafter the CWC was at a loss and didn't have a meaningful process, people waited for a week or ten days that they started muttering.

This is about the party, about a process, about a mechanism, not about a family or an individual. Whatever outcome such a fair process provides I will support unreservedly. It may be a person who can't stand me or vice-versa. Once a person is elected, such a person is right and justified in demanding loyality and allegiance of every Congress worker.  

The current CWC has only two Lok Sabha MPs. Do you also prescribe that the CWC should be constructed in such a way that the elected representatives get far greater space.

The CWC used to be elected and once the election is over there were special or permanent invitees whose position in the party was indispensable that the President feels that they must be present. The balance has changed. Now the difference between these categories has become irrelevant.

What I was recommending was an election to the CWC membership, suppose the results produce that omits the stalwarts that the President wants to consult in the body, invite those people. That's how the party functioned pre-Independence time. Mahatma Gandhi was often an invitee rather than being a member. The question is that should it be AICC or the PCC delegates? I am perhaps unduly influenced by watching the Conservative Party process in the U.K. I feel that larger electoral college will have more credibility in a large country like ours. 

Do you think you will have to pay a price for speaking out? 

I hope not, because the party should have the capacity to be able to manage all such expression of views. I am pleased that the party spokesperson said that the party line only applies to issues outside the party and but inside the party, we are a democratic party and we are free to express our views.

I have not done this disloyally. I have not attacked anybody. I have not said anything negative about any individual or a group. What I have said is that the party should strengthen itself and everyone is worried about how long it's taking. That's the right way forward.

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 2:15:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/gandhis-will-remain-the-conscience-keepers-of-the-congress-shashi-tharoor/article28762522.ece

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