I represent change Congress needs to take on Modi: Tharoor


5 October 2022

HYDERABAD: On a nationwide campaign for support from within his party as a contestant in the Congress party presidential elections, senior leader and MP from Kerala, Dr Shashi Tharoor, while in the city on Monday as part of a whistle-stop tour, said, “The Congress, which has lost the last two general elections against the Modi-led BJP, cannot afford to be in the ‘business as usual’ mode to fight 2024. The party and all stakeholders in the anti-BJP political space are looking for a change in the Grand Old Party. Most of the younger lot in the party want change and I represent that aspiration best.”

In an exclusive interview to Deccan Chronicle, Dr Tharoor explained why, despite the odds being stacked against him, he feels he has a chance and why the fight for democracy and protecting the idea of India must first begin within. Excerpts.

The last time a candidate won against a nominee of a Gandhi was Subhash Chandra Bose against Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Do you think you can repeat history?

Not a relevant parallel, situationally, besides the ridiculousness of anyone being compared with one of the greatest Indians of all times. There is no official nominee, as the Gandhi family has clearly stated emphatically. In fact, the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) has issued guidelines for the polls and no one can dictate to any voter. Our interim president and leader Sonia Gandhi has spelt it explicitly that the election must be free, fair and open; and all candidates are equal in the way the Gandhi family views them.

How do you fancy your chances now that the nomination phase is over and there are only two candidates?

I am happy to concede that Mr Mallikarjun Kharge, our senior leader, is a frontrunner and I am happy with the tag of underdog. But as you know, underdogs have sprung surprises in the past in every field. My team and I, if anything, are overwhelmed by the support we are getting, including from representatives and cadres of the party from across the country. We are being inundated with requests for visits and offers of support.

As I see, it is not just support for me but what I represent. We are a young country and so is the party. Over 50 per cent of Indians are below 25 years of age, and the number is over 65 per cent when the bar is below 35 years of age. Youth are the biggest majority in India and we have failed to appeal to them and to the new voters who are joining the general electorate each year. The expectation is of a big change rather than incremental change or a status quo scenario. I represent the change.

How is the response to you from the seniors in the party, especially the PCC chief and CLP leaders across states?

The response from the seniors and older leaders in the establishment has not been encouraging; the grandees are not too supportive. The bulk of the support to me is from the young and aspiring sections of the party.

What would be the points you promise the people within the party if you win the elections?

We have released a manifesto. We want to empower the younger leaders and cut down the maze at the top. We have to de-clutter and reach out. Congress has to become the party of the many, led by many more people than a few. It has to become truly representational of the vibrantly diverse society and country India truly is.

How do you see the Bharat Jodo Yatra and its role in strengthening the party? How would the relationship be of either of the candidates who become the new president with the Gandhi family? What will be the powers of the new president?

Our party’s DNA is inextricably tied to the Gandhi family, their contributions, their sacrifices, their charisma and authority over the party. No party president will lose sight of it, and in fact, to achieve the goals of the party, we need the Gandhi family.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, in which I have participated, is a watermark event in Indian politics. Lakhs of people are joining voluntarily as early as 6 am and walking, meeting, trying to shake hands or hand over the babies to Rahul Gandhi for his blessings. It is a game-changing initiative.

The party presidential elections will be over soon, but the walk will go on and contribute immensely to bringing the Congress together. Not just the Congress but several sections of society, members of civil society, some of whom had written off the Congress, or publicly wished it died after the 2019 defeat are joining the yatra with interest.

It is very important to everyone, including other allies and friendly parties, and the not-so-friendly parties in the non-BJP space that the Congress is crucial to challenging the BJP and Narendra Modi.

As for the powers of the president of the Congress, the party’s constitution is very clear and it elucidates them in an unambiguous way.

In your assessment, can the Narendra Modi-led BJP be challenged in 2024?

Absolutely. In 2019, they had 37 per cent vote, which points in unimpeachable terms that they benefited in a big way from the division in the oppositions votes, parties and leaders. One of the reasons why Bharat Jodo and a revival of the Congress is crucial is not only because we take the saffron party head on in a large number of constituencies directly, but we can also be the only viable platform to start building the opposition unity.

If not across the country as one grand alliance, the Congress can lead efforts to ensure that, in seat after seat, we achieve higher cohesion and cooperation between opposition forces and not only challenge, but also defeat Modi.

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