In a sudden move, former Union law minister and Congress leader Ashwani Kumar left his party of 46 years. It’s been over a month but he hasn’t joined any other political party yet. In an exclusive interview with Ashhar Khan, Dr Kumar, also known as a public intellectual, says though he has moved away from “party politics for now”, he’s very much in the political sphere to raise issues of national importance. Interestingly, his options of joining a political party are very much open. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How do you see the nature of politics after the results of these five Assembly elections?
The nation stands at the cusp of a transformative political change. The BJP’s unchallenged pole position and the AAP’s decisive victory in Punjab is a clear indication of the country’s changed political landscape.
The Congress is being replaced by the TMC and AAP as future leaders in a possible alternative national coalition.
The tectonic shift in the political consciousness of India is undeniable. People are willing to engage with any party or leader who is seen as representing change for the better. Implicit in this reality is a rejection of a stagnant status quo. Clearly, the youth in a young and aspiring India are driving the change.
Q: You have been in Parliament, in the party, in government and in the Opposition. How would you articulate a change for the better?
A: Well, you see it’s time to imagine a refreshing politics of national renewal, moving away from hackneyed clichés, repetitive ideological jargons without contextual relevance and a debilitative political discourse that has destroyed the credibility of the political class, as the driver of Indian democracy. Navigating the stupendous challenges of our times, which are also global in nature, remains a political challenge. The leadership that can secure a broad political consensus around critical issues without being captive to the limiting “isms” of politics is the need of the hour. For this to happen, political parties must find a modus vivendi to ensure that leaders and parties shun visceral animosities and vitriolic political discourse. While democratic politics is essentially competitive, our democracy need not be conflict-driven all the time.
Q: In the last decade we’ve seen politics has got very personal. Attacks from both sides have got sharper. Do you feel this has overshadowed the real issues?
Denigrating national icons on either side ill serves our history and respect for institutional integrity demands civilised and appropriate discourse about the highest political executive and leader of the nation. The harshness of language can’t define the weight of the message. And politics that feeds on calumny cannot be the answer to India’s retreating democracy. In an age when ideological differences are getting blurred and no political party seems untouchable, it should not be difficult to pursue cooperative bipartisan politics on critical national issues consistent with the felt sensitivities of the nation. Such issues include environmental imperatives, national security, the challenge of cyber terrorism, pandemics, food and water security, terrorism, the widening social and economic disparities, the humanitarian challenge of extreme poverty and the urgent need to address digital divides in a technology driven world.
Q: Do you feel that since elections are constantly happening around us, the political parties are in “populist mode” and the issues you mentioned are mostly on the backburner?
It’s not a happy circumstance that the nation is perpetually consumed with elections at various levels that feeds unsustainable populism and hinders the making and execution of critical policy choices. It’s time to think proactively about “one nation, one election”, with the necessary measures to ensure a level playing field. The need to pursue cooperative nationalism consistent with our plurality and social realities is self-evident, given the forces of discord that threaten our unity as a nation.
Q: What, according to you, is the kind of leadership the nation needs and how can democracy be strengthened?
The ability to understand the mood of the nation, mould it when necessary and summon the national will in aid of national purposes is a test of leadership. To strengthen our democracy, it’s necessary to ensure that the exercise of State power is held accountable with reference to its purposes and constitutional restraints. A broad political consensus must be in place to ensure administrative power is not exercised to intimidate political opponents, an essential prerequisite of our proclaimed commitment to the rule of law. A polarised polity is not the answer to the challenges of a society with diversities as large as ours. We need to refashion our politics to address new realities. We must elevate our politics to validate Thomas Mann’s reminder that the destiny of man is determined in political terms.
Q: On a personal question, you left the Congress rather suddenly. What, according to you, ails the party?
It gives me no pleasure to say that for quite some time, senior leaders have been feeling diminished and irrelevant in the party. Clearly, those denuded of their dignity and relevance can’t lend strength to their party. And “leaders” dwarfed by timidity and lack of intellectual credibility can’t lead. This is the inescapable lesson of history.
Q: Can the Congress in its present situation rise to the challenges you have mentioned? If so, what will it take for the party to achieve them?
It’s not for me to advise how the party can be resurrected. I am sure the answers are known to all concerned. I wish my old party and its president well....