Kolkata: The Congress party is faced with challenges and must reinvent its movement ground up, but there isn’t enough time for it ahead of the 2019 general election, its spokesperson and a parliamentarian for 12 years, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, said in an interview.
Singhvi, who was in Kolkata to file nomination papers to run for the Rajya Sabha, backed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC), spoke about Congress’s strategy vis-a-vis diverse regional parties, the expansion of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party’s social media campaign.
Why did the Congress agree to take Mamata Banerjee’s support to get you elected to the Rajya Sabha, spurning the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPM’s proposal of fielding a consensus candidate?
Because there was no consensus. I don’t think politics tolerates an indefinite vacuum. Also, I don’t think the parties in question here—the Congress, the CPM and the TMC—consider each other untouchable. Yes, they are in a fierce three-way political fight at the state level, but that is the beauty of our democracy. The fight goes on in a very dignified and transparent manner on principle, on policy and on governance. But, at the same time, when it comes to event-based cooperation at the national level, I don’t think these parties consider each other untouchable.
What is going to be the Congress’s political narrative going into the 2019 general election?
A wide variety of political parties across the country such as the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) in the south, the TMC, the BJD (Biju Janata Dal) and the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), and the SP (Samajwadi Party) and the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) now have a very strong conviction that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) has in its four-year rule created an ambience of vendetta, persecution and intolerance. This is not consensus—I’m saying this is a strong conviction.
If you are pro-Narendra Modi, you can get away with anything. But if you are not, you will face persecution even if you are completely law-abiding and democratic. Forget the Congress, we have had the BJP in power in the past, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but did you see anything like this? A lot of BJP leaders say there are two parties by the same name.
Now, in this situation, do you think it is wrong to coordinate and strategize with the regional parties on central issues? I don’t want to use words with technical connotations such as alliance and merger because they may mean a lot of change of identities. But surely, we have natural grounds for a lot of coordination, and it is increasing across parties, across India.
Do you mean close coordination with these parties is the way forward for the Congress?
See, there are two models in this country. There are states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, where you have a bipolar fight. And there are states such as West Bengal where there are strong regional parties as well as national parties. I’d say it’s foolish not to have some kind of adjustment with regional parties to avoid division of votes. There are several districts across the country where division of votes will benefit the BJP. So, without going for an alliance or merger, we will have to find other ways of adjustments and accommodation at the national level to avoid this division of votes.
But what is the Congress doing for itself to regain its pole position in national politics?
I accept the view that the Congress is faced with strong challenges. I also accept the view that we need to build our movement from the bottom. But as far as the 2019 general election is concerned, it is too close for us to reinvent the wheel. So, there is no option but to have strategic seat-based, event-based, person-based adjustments.
How do you propose to deal with the rapid expansion of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which, some say, is helping the BJP win elections?
I think it’s the other way round. The RSS has gained from the BJP being in power. The BJP was voted to power because of certain reasons, and it is allowing the RSS to become its de facto political master. Look at the people getting appointed to key positions; look at the text books being rewritten. It sounds very nice to say one India, one national language, one dress, one religion, one eating habit and so on. But it is only an explosive fiction and they are now trying to turn into reality. I am of the view that given India’s diversity, it holds together better, the more you let it go. The more you pull tight, it bursts at the seams. The imposition of a common culture is anathema to India.
What is the Congress doing to counter the BJP’s social media campaign?
I entirely concede that the RSS-BJP combine have had a free run on the social media in the past. In terms of numbers, I think they are still ahead. But have you seen the reaction they are faced with on the social media in the past six months? Why? Because people are now seeing through the bubble and realising that a lot of stories being spun are untrue. Hence, the strong reactions, and it shows that the law of diminishing return has kicked in. I agree that the Congress must strengthen its social media base, but it will not do so to spread falsehoods like the BJP.