Ashwani Kumar: ‘Only way for any party to gain strength is to ensure workers, leaders not alienated’

Pooja Pillai
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Former Law minister Ashwani Kumar

Congress leader and former Union Minister for Law and Justice Ashwani Kumar speaks to Pooja Pillai on his latest book, Human Dignity: A Purpose in Perpetuity, and the leadership crisis in the Congress.

AAP seems to have won Delhi elections on bread-and-butter issues

In Delhi, the AAP govt succeeded in winning the imagination of the people around delivery of their programmes. For example, work done in education, health and electricity, did catch the imagination of people. Local issues are relevant. For example, the issue of regional and local leadership is critically important. In states where Congress had effective leaders, it came back to power. This shows that we need to promote not only one or two, but a host of leaders at all levels while remaining firm in our commitment to the core values. If Congress is seen to be ambivalent or ineffective here, it will loose its qualitative distinction and popular support. At the same time, we must recognise the felt sensitivities of the people on emotional issues and where necessary lead the country in the right direction.

Congress seems to be suffering because the central leadership isn’t in place. What is happening?

Mrs Sonia Gandhi is the party president and is fully aware about people and the ground situation. There is no vacuum at the top but the question of the party’s future leadership has to be resolved. Also, the spurious debate about the young versus veterans is harming the party... Seniors cannot be pushed around by those in a rush. The younger lot must know that age is on their side. Congress needs experience and intellectual depth more than ever before, in addition to the energy of the youth...Transition is a natural phenomenon but must not be imposed.

How much damage does Jyotiraditya Scindia’s departure do?

Scindia’s exit is unfortunate indeed. It is time for honest introspection as to the reasons for leaders leaving the party. It is a necessary part of political management to recognise legitimate aspirations and merit. The winner-takes-it-all cannot be the Congress’ way. Above all, the dignity and esteem of party persons needs to be recognised at all times. I hope the party high command will apply the correctives and ensure that Congress persons are not diminished in any manner.

Read| Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit seals Congress’ fate

In his resignation letter, Scindia said Sonia Gandhi was aware that this was something that had been ‘drawing itself out over the year’. Could the Congress have done much to avoid this situation?

I cannot comment on the specifics of the Scindia’s case but it is clear that the party must conduct itself in a manner so that factionalism is not perpetuated and political power is fairly dispersed with a view to giving leaders and workers a sense of belonging .

What, if any, damage control can Congress do now?

The only way for any party to gain in strength is to ensure that its workers and leaders are not alienated. Easy accessibility to party leadership, open, candid and purposive dialogue on important matters is the way forward. Congress persons should not have to wait endlessly to meet leaders... Diminished leaders and those dwarfed by their own timidity cannot strengthen the party. Political decisions must be seen to be just and credible so as to enlist the willing support of party persons. Loyalties, we know, are always reciprocal. It is also necessary to recognise the distinction between conscientious dissent and indiscipline.

What about Rahul Gandhi’s leadership style makes him a good choice?

Rahul Gandhi is imbued with idealism, his heart is in the right place but he has to bond much more closely with party persons and with people. We have been suffering for a long time because of the preponderance of practitioneers of ‘realpolitik.’ Congress must hold out hope for the people in their future and in the future of the country. This is its foremost challenge on which hinges the question of the party’s future leadership and its place in national politics .

In what way has Congress’s communication to the people been ineffective?

I don’t want to pass a finalist judgment, but speaking purely in my personal capacity, I think we needed to hammer on one or two main themes which to my mind could only be about the need to defend the idea of India, about our core values.

My personal view is that nothing unites and galvanises Indian people more than a yearning for freedom and dignity. The Congress lost in 1977, post-Emergency, only on the question of freedom and liberty of the people. So while bread-and-butter issues are always important and cannot be discounted, we cannot forget that nations do not live by bread alone. Congress must talk about issues and not engage in a discourse centered on personalities alone.