Manish Tewari: ‘Congress needs to reorient economic philosophy, bring clarity on secularism’

Manoj C G
Manish Tewari interview on congress

Manish Tewari, Congress MP From Anandpur Sahib

Senior Congress leader and Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari speaks to Manoj C G on the road ahead for the Congress.

So what is the road ahead for the Congress now? What is ailing the Congress?

We need to have greater ideological clarity. For example, we have not been able to reorient our economic philosophy post the liberalisation and globalisation shift in 1991. While our economy has globalised and it has reaped the benefits of liberalisation... our politico-economic approach still continues to be fairly socialistic. So, is there a need to reorient our economic trajectory?

Read | Delhi polls: Congress wipeout— Zero seats, under 5% vote share, clueless in ideas battle

And on ideology?

The question of secularism has been bedevilling the Congress party for a while. Does secularism mean sarv dharm sambhav or the time has come to go back to the Nehruvian definition of secularism which meant a strict separation between the church and the state, something which the founders of the Indian state had conceived when they thought about including secularism into the Constitution which was at its inception... it came into the Preamble in 1974. But the word secular or the secular orientation of the Constitution is very clear in the entire construct of the Constitution. And what is our nationalism or what is our brand of nationalism? We need to distinguish it from the majoritarian brand of nationalism practised by the right...which is manifested in various ways...the latest being this entire vituperative campaign over Shaheen Bagh etc. How do we really brand our nationalism or what is our nationalism and according to me it is together we are stronger, etc, etc, but we need to articulate it cohesively and take it to the people. There is another issue of entitlement.

Are you talking about dynastic politics?

There is a general revolt in this country, especially among the youth, against entitlement. And when I talk about entitlement, I am not trying to target anybody in the Congress party or any other political party. What I am saying is that the younger generation, the post-liberalisation generation, is extremely scornful of entitlement. So in historical political parties, where most people occupying leadership positions at various levels are third or fourth generation in the Congress — their parents, their grandparents have been there and they’ve been a part of the freedom movement and they’ve been a part of building India — under those circumstances, how do we deal with the question or how do we deal with this revolt against entitlement? How do we say or how do we articulate that this is not dynasty-ism. This is really the legacy of those who built India. Similarly, over a period of time because Congress has been given a chance to govern this country for a long time...we have become an electoral machine. The essential elements of what should be the regular activity of a political party has somehow gone missing. And this is not something which has happened in the last two or three years. This process goes back four or five decades. So how do we...balance between being an electronically efficacious machine which unfortunately Delhi has proven otherwise and carry on these activities which keep the vitality of a regular political organisation alive. There is a need for a larger debate, discussion within the party on these issues.

But why has there been no debate in the party despite back-to-back defeats. Look at the Labour Party in Britain... changing leadership, restructuring the party... here in the Congress, it is business as usual.

It is not that there isn’t discussion. There is a process of discussion and dialogue goes on continuously, in any political party. But I think there is a need to have a more visible, a more broad-based consultative dialogue on these issues. My concern is not individuals. I think individuals are important, but only to an extent. What is important are the issues that define us.

You said you are not concerned about individuals. But will a non-Gandhi at the helm of the Congress send a message to the electorate?

If you look over the past 20 years, the fact remains that it is Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who was responsible for the UPA government coming into being in 2004 and repeating itself in 2009. So this entire bogey about a non-Gandhi to me is a non-issue. To me, the principle issue is that if you are able to get the ideological orientation correct, I’m very confident that the national resuscitation of the Congress, especially when the BJP is completely failing on all fronts, is something which is possible.

But 2020 is different from 2004. The situation is different, the times have changed.

Because the situation is different, all the more reason that these ideological issues need to be ironed out.