Interview | National

It’s one-man, top-down rule: Shashi Tharoor

In the face of mounting religious consciousness, godless secularists will always lose, says Congress MP Shahsi Tharoor

Talking about his latest book, The Paradoxical Prime Minister, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor says his critique of Narendra Modi is based on facts, and says the Congress’s appeal to Hindu voters is an acknowledgement of the majority discourse.

As a practising Congress politician, would you not be critical and run down everything the government does?

Assume, if you wish, that being an Opposition MP, I can only be critical. Look at the basis of the criticism, the content of the criticism and the nature of the criticism. There is detail, there are facts and figures, there are examples. No criticism is expressed without them.

And I have acknowledged some of the things: the International Yoga Day was a very clever exercise of soft power, I have praised the energy with which Mr. Modi jet-sets around the world. But I have questioned the foreign policy, relationships in the neighbourhood, the priorities, the episodic nature of much of our foreign policy conduct, the inconsistent yo-yoing of relationship with Pakistan, etc., etc.

You have talked about ‘Modi-fication’ of India. What is the one thing that stands out?

In four-and-a-half years, I would say the de-institutionalisation of our country and its replacement by, I am afraid, one-man rule. When I say one man, you can call it the duumvirate [Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah]. There is a very heavy, top-down style of government. Very often, Cabinet Ministers live in fear or anxiety of being corrected from the top. Most of the decisions are cleared by the PMO.

And if you look at the institutions of governance, not just the ones directly in the government but around, like the CVC, CBI, Election Commission, Reserve Bank of India, there are some serious questions to be asked about all them. At the beginning of the year, even the Supreme Court; there were questions being asked.

So what is happening to our governance is a little short of a hollowing out of institutions. And their replacement by the whims and desires of one individual. That’s not the way a parliamentary system is supposed to work.

You say Mr. Modi knows how to impress an audience. In 2019, the audience will be the voters of India. Who in the Opposition can counter the Prime Minister’s charisma?

Fair question, but I also think it’s an unfair question. And I will tell you why — we have a parliamentary system. We don’t have a presidential system. The logic [of elections becoming presidential in nature] is ill-founded. If somebody goes and votes for a BJP MP he does not like because he believes Mr. Modi will become the PM and tomorrow BJP doesn’t have enough votes for Mr Modi to draw in the allies and decides to entrust the leadership to somebody else, then what happens? There is no way you can directly vote for Mr. Modi to be leader. You can only vote for the party.

But Mr. Modi continues to be very popular.

So when people listen to any of his speeches,one has to remind them that this gentleman [Mr Modi] hasn't fulfilled any of the words he said. Secondly, we have the people: look here is this guy who says I am the hero on the white stallion who has the answer to all your questions and charge down to solve all your problems. And we know he has not solved your problems. Do you feel your Acche Din have come? They have not. Now, on the other hand, here is somebody else who comes on foot, not on a big horse, and says I don't have all the answers to your problems but I will ask you what your problems are, what your issues are? And I will come with a very experienced bench strength of qualified people who will work with me and you to find solutions.

And that is Rahul Gandhi?

Absolutely! And we have a series of parties now and in some parts of the country regional parties are stronger. Look at this stage, we are not expecting the Congress to contest all 545 seats. I think we will have the maturity to accept that and within that context, we will have to include those regional heads as well in the metaphor I have given you.

But there is no agreement in the Opposition ranks on leadership.

The consensus is very clear that the decision as to which Opposition figure can be Prime Minister should be deferred till after the votes and seats are counted.

You had written Why I am a Hindu and now the Congress is making a very visible attempt to catch the ‘Hindu’ vote?

I would say it is more neutralising of the pretence on the other side that they are the only ones who are good Hindus or who are devoted to the Hindu voters. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the voters happen to be Hindus. And there are very many devoted Hindus in many parties including ours. So why should we abdicate this entire field to the BJP? It suited the Hindutva side to reduce the debate into one between good Hindus and godless secularists. In a country like ours, especially in the face of mounting religious consciousness, godless secularists will always lose. It is now important to say that we are secular in practice but we have gods we worship; whatever be our faiths, we believe in them. But we don’t believe in hitting over their heads to pursue office.

You claim Mr. Modi doesn’t follow in practice what he says. This is true of the Congress as well. It welcomes the Sabarimala verdict in New Delhi but opposes it in Kerala.

The overwhelming majority of believers made it clear to their political leaders and their representatives that they were wounded and offended by it. And the political representatives locally stood by the believers. That essentially is all that happened. On the larger principles involved, the Congress has taken a stand.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 5:57:59 AM |

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