Former Union minister Ashwani Kumar. (Photo: DC/File)
New Delhi: Former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, who resigned from the Congress on Tuesday in the midst of the election cycle, said the grand old party had lost touch with the ground reality and no longer reflected the national mood.
In a no-holds-barred interview to PTI after quitting the Congress, the 69-year-old former Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab said he had reached his limits of perseverance in the party, which, he said, lacked inspirational leadership and is facing an existential challenge.
He also accused the party of failing to reinvent itself despite its decline.
Expressing anguish over recent controversies over Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose' statue at India Gate and Padma Bhushan award to senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kumar said these events betrayed a narrowness of approach not expected of the Congress.
He also said the Congress should look inwards instead of finding fault with those quitting it.
Excerpts of the Interview with PTI:
Q. What prompted you to leave the Congress after decades of association with the party going back to your father's days?
A. Lack of inspirational leadership, absence of a sense of belonging and debilitating processes of internal functioning combined to make possible a painful decision to end a 46-year-long association with the Congress with which two earlier generations of my family were closely connected during the freedom struggle.
Needless controversy around Netaji's statute and Ghulam Nabi Azad's national award also upset me in as much as these betrayed a narrowness of approach not expected of the Congress.
As has been said, "Ideas wait upon events, which give them birth".
Absent an inspiring leadership and captive to its internal compulsions, the party has failed to reinvent itself despite unmistakable signs of decline over the years. I do not wish to criticise any individual but failings of those responsible cannot be brushed aside.
Q. Any special reason for quitting the party at this time on the eve of Punjab elections where you have been active?
A. In Punjab, the political discourse was never as low. The open fight over the office of chief minister showed Congress in poor light and diminished us all in the process. It showed that other than a few people no one else was relevant or entitled to respect.
Q. A section of Congress veterans was very upset at the way Capt Amarinder Singh was ousted in Punjab. Has your resignation anything to do with that issue?
A. The manner in which Capt Amarinder Singh was humiliated and forced to resign was an ominous signal. He deserved better.The dismal State of Punjab's economy demands an elevating and consensual politics and shunning of narrow personal prejudices.
Q. What is your future plan? Are you going to join any party?
A. I have not thought of joining any other political party yet but intend to remain active in pursuit of public and national causes as best as possible. What the future holds cannot be predicted today.
Q. What is your impression of Punjab elections?
A. Election results in Punjab will surprise many. Based on the groundswell of popular support, I feel that AAP will comfortably form the next Government in Punjab and Bhagwant Mann will be the state's next chief minister. Punjab is ready for a sensational political change.
Q. Is your decision to quit the Congress connected with the aspirations of G 23?
A. My decision has nothing to do with G23. I was never a part of that grouping.
Q. You have worked with many PMs and Congress presidents. What is different now that several leaders are leaving the party? Rahul Gandhi says those leaving the Congress are afraid of taking on the BJP and that the less brave are free to leave. Your take?
A. Several leaders leaving the party in quick succession tell us that something is very wrong with the oldest party. It is better for the leadership to look inwards rather than find fault with those who are compelled to leave the party.
Q. Do you think the existence of Congress as a national party is in danger considering only the regional players appear to be in a position to challenge the ruling BJP. Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are cases in point.
A. Congress is facing an existentialist challenge as a national party. The party has lost touch with the ground and no longer reflects that national mood.
Regional parties have caught the imagination of the people, particularly of the youth. Congress is virtually a three states party now. Regional parties could come together at a future date on the basis of a minimum common programme but none of them can individually challenge the BJP's dominant political position in the country. Ideological battles need transformative leadership that can rise above individual vanities and aspirations. This is not happening, unfortunately.
Q. Did you reach out to Sonia Gandhi with your grievances given your close association with her over the last several years?
A. Yes, but there is a limit to perseverance. Let me answer you in verse..."Chup si ho gayin dil ki dhadkane, so gayi kahin saari aahatein, charsoo yahaan sirf khamoshi, ab sadayein dein kya kisi ko hum, waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam... (There is silence/indifference all around. Who should I summon to my call. What a tragedy of our times.).
Q. Is the Congress in a position to fulfil aspirations of people nationally?
A. I don't think so. I see a further decline in its relevance as a national party in the future.