'She is selling an unsaleable commodity'

Print edition : January 24, 1998

In the three decades or so that Rangarajan Kumaramangalam was in the Congress(I), he was considered a 'loyalist' of the Nehru-Gandhi family. He was close to Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, he expressed his opinion that Sonia Gandhi should become the leader of the Congress(I). Recently he crossed over to the BJP; barely a week later, Sonia Gandhi decided to campaign for the Congress(I). Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met the former Union Minister to find out how he perceived the Sonia factor from the position of a long-time political supporter of the Nehru-Gandhi family who is now in a rival political formation. Excerpts from the interview:

What do you think will be the impact of Sonia Gandhi campaigning for the Congress(I)?

Frankly, not much, for she has to sell a combination of leaders, a motley crowd. Whatever her charisma, selling an unsaleable commodity is a difficult job. She is selling the Congress system, which at this moment lacks credibility.

But at one time you believed that Sonia Gandhi would be able to save the Congress(I).

I do believe that the Nehru-Gandhi family has a certain following, a certain charisma. There is a belief among the people that they will deliver something. But the fact is that she delayed her arrival on the scene for so long that the Kesris and others - I do not want to name one person - have destroyed the image of the Congress totally.

When you were in the All India Indira Congress (Tiwari), you often said that if a representative of the Nehru-Gandhi family takes to active politics, there would be a paradigm shift in Indian society away from communal and caste politics .

V. SUDERSHAN

There could have been a paradigm shift if Sonia had joined active politics eight or nine months ago. Even now I do not think that she will be allowed to have any real say in the organisational and political issues that confront the Congress(I). Did they heed her advice on Mamata Banerjee? The leadership of that party only wants to exploit her charisma for its benefit.

Why do you think she decided to campaign now?

She came in because of the apprehension that the Congress will get totally wiped out, thereby eliminating the only vehicle that the family will have if any of its members wanted to participate in politics. Personally, I do not think that the Congress will get wiped out. But the party as it stands now cannot be rejuvenated.

What about the issues that she has raised and will raise in the campaign? It may be difficult for people like you to correlate your expressed opinions of the past and your new political identity.

What are the issues that she addressed in her initial rallies? She said that her family is attached to the Congress and the people of India. It is her family that has made sacrifices for the growth of India. Nobody will deny these. She also says that she is not happy with the state of affairs in the Congress. There too nobody will disagree with her. Apart from this, what she is saying is that the country should be saved from parties that use religion for political gains. And she means the BJP. But the BJP has clearly said that it is not going to do that.

Did you hold the same position when the BJP and its associates demolished the Babri Masjid?

I am very clear in my mind that the BJP has realised much more than anybody else that it had to pay a heavy price for the faux pas that happened on December 6, 1992.

You think it was a faux pas?

Well, whether it is their faux pas or somebody else's faux pas or whether it was a planned move on the part of some interests to see that the masjid is demolished and the BJP is blamed for violence ... cannot be said. But the BJP lost out on that day completely.

But did not the demolition prove that whatever secular postures the BJP leadership struck, the final say is with the hardliners led by the RSS and the VHP?

On introspection I find that the Congress leadership of that time wanted to corner the RSS and the BJP on the issue and that is what caused the event.

Immediately after the demolition, you spoke about the failures or deliberate inaction of the then leadership of the Congress(I) to protect the masjid. You also said that Sonia Gandhi's leadership would help change this direction.

I had said that because the Congress had lost its support among the minority community completely. Her entry into politics might still create this result. But for Soniaji to pull the Congress out of its morass, it is going to take a long time.

You had taken a particular position on the Bofors scandal and some other issues. How do you look at them now?

On Bofors, my stand has been and continues to be that it is easy to make charges but they have to be proved. If the CBI investigation proves that Soniaji or Rajivji or any one of the family has been a beneficiary, they should be punished. But if it is not shown so, she or the family cannot be blamed. Unless either of the two happens I do not believe that it is an issue that can be bandied about in the election campaign.

The Ram rajya vs Rome rajya slogan appears to indicate that the BJP plans to make an issue of the fact that Sonia is not an Indian by birth.

I do not believe in that. These slogans and statements do not carry much impact among the people. Soniaji has identified herself with her husband's family... But she is very sensitive. As you would notice, she has brought Priyanka up-front. So the BJP's problem is not going to be this election but the next one.

If Sonia is able to revive the Congress, what would people like you, who are more comfortable with Congress values...

I think that the Congress' value system is really the value system of the nation. But the fact is that the Congress has lost it and the BJP has adopted it.

Will you rethink your position if Sonia is able to revive the Congress(I)?

When you make a choice after 30 years in the Congress, you presume that you have another 25 years of service left. I do not think that in this period the Congress will reach a position to offer me a choice like this.

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