Congress MP Shashi Tharoor agrees that the party was “stunned into negligence” by the defeat in the May general elections and as a result delayed state-level changes in Haryana which, had they happened six months earlier, could possibly have improved the party’s showing in the recent elections.
Tharoor said that a free and fair election was the best way of choosing the new Congress president but accepted that his was a lonely voice and possibly a minority of one. He said senior leaders of the Congress party were against choosing the new president by election because they believed it would create factionalism in the party and could also lead to a lopsided result. He revealed that he had discussed this with both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi but refused to reveal their thinking.
Speaking about the new think-tank set up by Sonia Gandhi to determine the Congress party’s position on issues of critical importance, Tharoor said he did not know why he was not chosen as its member. As he put it, he cannot demand to be made a member. And if the party believes it doesn’t need him, it has a right to come to that conclusion. Though repeatedly asked he would not say whether he was disappointed by his exclusion. He said: “I’m available to the party whenever they need me and in whatever capacity”.
In a 45-minute interview to Karan Thapar, Tharoor said that the Congress party’s performance in Maharashtra and Haryana is a sign that it is reviving but this is only the very beginning of what is likely to be a lengthy process. He said that the recent state elections clearly suggest that economic issues such as unemployment and farmer distress are becoming more important than political issues such as national security and illegal immigration.
Tharoor readily acknowledged that in Maharashtra, where the NCP now has more seats than Congress both at the assembly and Lok Sabha levels, there is a need to re-think the relationship between the two allies. Today Congress is the junior partner. He praised Sharad Pawar’s tireless campaigning adding that it captured the imagination of the country.
However, Tharoor refused to accept that the Congress’s improved performance in Haryana, Maharashtra and in the by-polls, at a time when there was no major participation from the Gandhis, was a clear indication that the party could survive without the Gandhis and even perform better. But he accepted that in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in December and, now in Maharashtra and Haryana, voters have shown more faith in the Congress’s state and local leadership than in its national leadership.
Speaking about the divide in the Congress between the old guard and the young leadership, Tharoor said it was critical that both should find fair representation in the party. He believes that Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Capt. Amarinder Singh and Kamal Nath have shown that the party cannot do without the wisdom and experience of the elder generation but, equally, it needs to constantly infuse young blood into its ranks.
Tharoor also said that along with choosing a new president, the Congress party needs to choose new members for the Central Working Committee (CWC) and new general secretaries. He said that the party needs to enforce its own constitutional requirement that 12 members of the CWC are elected by the AICC and not nominated by the President. Tharoor also said that the Congress party should implement the block development council structure of party organization that exists in Kerala in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Finally, speaking about the next session of Parliament which convenes on November 18, Tharoor was confident that the Congress, despite its depleted numbers, would make a significant impact opposing the BJP by the facts at the command of its speakers and the eloquence and force of their delivery.