Interview: Manish Tiwari, Congress

'Congress must do serious introspection'

Print edition : March 30, 2018

Manish Tiwari. Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

Interview with Manish Tiwari, senior Congress leader.

THE Congress, which was wiped out in Tripura and Nagaland, and lost to the BJP in the game of forming the government in Meghalaya despite emerging as the single largest party with 21 seats, needs to do “serious introspection”, says senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Manish Tiwari. More than the rise of a political party in the north-eastern region, it is the ideological connotation of its win that should worry people at large, he says in this interview to Frontline. Excerpts:

The Congress had been a serious player in the north-eastern States for decades. What explains the party’s rout and the BJP’s victory in Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya?

The victory of the BJP is not only significant because of the rise of a new political force in that region; its ideological connotations are far more important. The violence after the results is a precursor to the shape of things to come. The rise of the BJP there militates against the pluralistic ethos of the region. Since the north-eastern region is made up of tribal and sub-tribal groups and other ethnic minorities, my estimate is that the region is perhaps entering a turbulent and volatile phase.

How do you explain the decimation of the Congress in Tripura and Nagaland? Even in Meghalaya the regional parties rejected you.

In Tripura, the process of attrition in our party had developed over the years. Our leaders handling the affairs in that region, in fact all of us, need to do a serious introspection and critical self-analysis as to why the Congress, which was the natural flavour of that region, has lost out.

Meghalaya was a different story. There it was crude and brute use of muscle and money power and gross misuse of the constitutional process. But we also need to see things in a broader perspective. With the advent of social media, political dynamics have changed, and sometimes the advance of traditional parties has been surmounted by new forces entering the field. I will give you the example of Delhi. In 2014, the Narendra Modi wave was still there, the Congress was in power in the State for 15 years. So naturally the people should have voted a BJP government to power, but the AAP [Aam Aadmi Party] entered the scene and swept the elections. The same thing has happened in Tripura. The BJP has done to the Congress in Tripura what the AAP did to the BJP in Delhi in 2015.

Will this have an impact in the forthcoming State elections and the Lok Sabha election in 2019?

If you ask me does this substantively impact the 2019 elections, my answer is no. The context of the two elections is different. If you remember, in 2003 the BJP was on a high, it was in power at the Centre and it decisively won the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan elections. The party was so confident that it advanced the elections and lost in 2004. The next round of State elections, where we have been fairly active, are round the corner and then we will see. In Kerala and West Bengal, for example, the BJP has been active for years, but it has not succeeded much.

In my opinion, the next Lok Sabha election will not be decided by the outcome of the State elections, whichever way they go, but it will be a battle for the vision of India. It will not merely be one political party replacing another, but it will be a battle for the founding ethos of India between those who [want to] rewrite it and those who support the pluralistic ethos, between those who founded the idea of India in 1947 and propounded it and those who lost out in the battle then. Those who lost out then, saw in 2014 an opportunity to rewrite the cultural ethos of India and the run up to 2019 will make people think whether they want the progressive, all-encompassing, pluralistic idea of India, or they want a vision of India which believes in rewriting history and compartmentalising citizens.

Immediately after the results, Mamata Banerjee blamed Congress president Rahul Gandhi for the victory of the BJP, saying she had suggested an alliance in Tripura which could have brought a different outcome. Now in U.P., the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have joined hands. Will the Congress take the initiative to forge a broad alliance for the Lok Sabha election?

All progressive, liberal and pluralistic forces need to arrive at a consensus for protecting the idea of India. Politics is a preponderance of possibilities and we should make an attempt to ensure we are ahead of the curve in this game.

Has this debacle been discussed at the party level?

I am sure those who are entrusted with the responsibility will or would have done so already. The fact that we have been rejected in an area where we should have been the natural alternative is a cause for concern.

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