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Congress Must Pay Attention to Organisation, Build Organic Links: P Chidambaram

Ahmed Patel early on Wednesday managed to wrest a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat after a hard fought contest which saw high drama as well. CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil spoke senior Congress Leader P Chidambaram about the win, what it means for the Congress and future of the grand old party of Indian politics

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:August 10, 2017, 5:29 PM IST

Ahmed Patel early on Wednesday managed to wrest a Rajya Sabha seat from Gujarat after a hard fought contest which saw high drama as well. CNN-News18’s Marya Shakil spoke senior Congress Leader P Chidambaram about the win, what it means for the Congress and future of the grand old party of Indian politics. Edited Excerpts:

What does Ahmed Patel’s victory mean to veterans like you, the old guard, and to the grand old party?

I am not an old guard. I think there are people who are older than I am. I think all these classifications are irrelevant. What the Gujarat episode teaches us is, that we must pay attention to the organisation. We must build, organic links between the workers and the elected representatives or the political party office bearers. So that each elected representative or each political party office bearer feels obligation to the workers of his constituency, his district, his region. This will ensure that he or she does not act in a manner that is offensive to the workers. Here, if six guys resigned, seven defected and one cross-voted, it means that these elected representatives, feel and believe that they are not responsible to their workers.

So does it mean that the Congress has got its mojo back? Or, because it is being said that Congress is in a state of coma, are these first signs of coming back to life?

No, Congress is not in a state of coma. I think you guys in the media are overly impressed or intimidated by the BJP-RSS juggernaut as you use these terms to describe opposition parties. I think the Congress had neglected organization. One of the reasons was that we were in government for 10 years. When you are in government, there is a tendency to neglect the organisation. So, that is a lesson that we have learnt that we must go back and work to rebuild the organisation. Once the organisation is rebuilt, it becomes fit and fighting machine, you will find that there is more activity. More people are attracted to the party, there is more political action, and there is greater confidence.

Is this a case of what Jairam Ramesh said, that the Congress is facing existential crisis and there are sultans without a sultanate?

I am not a philosopher so I can’t use those terms. So all I can say is go back and pay attention to the Block Committee and the District Committee. I think we are beginning to do that. Work has already started in many states to pay attention to the health of the block committee and the district committee.

Recently at a book launch you had said that current organizational structure of the Congress is no match to that of the BJP and the RSS. Do you think what happened in Gujarat with Congress being able to show that they even in Amit Shah’s bastion they can win battles, that will come as a surprise?

Firstly, do you agree with us or not that huge amounts of money have changed hands? Do agree with us or not that allurements, promises and enticements were held out to Congress MLAs? I mean don’t tell me that these six plus seven guys and one more, defected out of a sudden discovery of the virtues of BJP.

But sir, some of this the Congress has also used in the past.

Show me a case where, anything like what happened in Gujarat has happened. I have a pretty long memory but I can’t recall a case where six MLAs resigned on the promise that they will be given tickets in the next election, seven MLAs including the leader defects, one MLA in the 44 cross votes. I can’t recall any such incidents in the recent past. Yes, here and there one or two guys may have been enticed away. But this is one a scale that mocks democracy; this is on a scale that thumbs your nose against the whole democratic system.

We saw you leading from the front, you were there at the election commission. Do you remember anything in your political career of anything playing out of this nature where current ministers and former ministers, senior leaders from both the parties were taking one delegation after another and fighting it out in front of the Election Commission, do you recall anything of this kind playing out ever and at night?

Speaking for myself, this is the first time ever that I have entered the Election Commission office. I’ve never been to the Election Commission office before. I was told by about 8 pm or half past 8 that Randeep Surjewala has sought an appointment with the Election Commission and he would like me and a couple of others to go along and present our case. So I had about a 5-minute notice. I said fine, so there was Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot, R.P.N Singh, Randeep Surjewala and I at the Election Commission.

A battery of senior leaders

Practically. It looked as though the venue of the cabinet meeting has shifted to the Election Commission. Only the Prime Minister was absent, God Bless Him.

And senior leaders from your party?

Well, my party, the senior leaders are office bearers. Ashok Gehlot is an office bearer, Ghulam Nabi Azad is an office bearer both are general secretaries of the party. R.P.N Singh is in-charge of a state; Randeep is the communications department chief. So they were party office bearers who went.

Do you think that Ahmed Patel’s victory settles the old guard VS new generation debate in the Congress?

You guys have nothing else to munch upon so you talk about it. I have always believed that we must allow the younger generations to take greater responsibility. I have always said that younger members of the Congress party must become secretaries in the Parliament, in the legislature. For example, recently, we have inducted young secretaries. I know there are four from Gujarat, four from Karnataka and four from Rajasthan under three general secretaries, 12 young people have been inducted as secretaries.

Rahul Gandhi has lost 27 elections ever since he took charge as the Vice-President in 2013.

What 27 elections, we’ve not had 27 elections.

Do you think he has it in him to lead the Grand old party? I am asking you because, senior leaders, veteran leaders, like you, bring the experience. You are saying that the Congress should be led by a younger generation but can young and old be a happy marriage.

I’ve said it several times; I said it in Jaipur where Rahul Gandhi was elected as Vice-President. I said it then, I say it now. I can identify a number of young people, men and women across the states who I think are perfectly capable of becoming district leaders, state leaders and becoming chief ministers, becoming ministers.

Finding a place in the Congress working committee as well?

Absolutely, I think the Congress working Committee when it is revamped, re-structured, they will induct a large number of young people. Remember, Jawaharlal Nehru was 40 when he became Congress president. Forty years of age! So why can’t we induct people of 40 years of age to take over as working committee members with specific responsibilities.

So what will seniors as veterans do?

Number of things to do. We can write, we can speak, we can go to the Election Commission when it is necessary, so there are a number of things we can do.

Do you think that the Congress perhaps is suffering from some kind of perceived image of the taint that came in the UPA-2?

See every government when it ended its tenure was tainted. Every government was tainted. Remain in Government for five years and ten years, something will stick. Take Maharashtra, the state from where I am elected for Rajya Sabha. Number two, Mr. Khadse, left the government under a shadow. Now there is another minister, a housing minister, who in all fairness should put in his papers or the CM should ask for his resignation. There are serious allegations. The secretary has been asked to leave. How is the minister still in office? The point I am making is, if you remain in government for a few years, some charges will stick and therefore, some charges have been made against UPA-2, none have been proved yet.

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| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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