Born to an Indian father who values western culture and way of life more than anything, he was brought up as any kid in the elite class would have been expected to be. Such was the extent of the elitism in the household that speaking in the vernacular was not entertained even on the dining table. The boy goes on to study at Harrow and later at Cambridge. On returning to India, inspired by a certain MK Gandhi, he takes up a lead in the nationalist movement of the time. His involvement in the movement and his image availed the whole country to see him as the second-in-command of the struggle against the Raj. So much so that, his chief contender Patel once said, ‘The masses, they come for him.’ I talk about a person named Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Congress that Nehru inherited was a mixed bag of liberals, conservatives, and radicals. But when he embarked on building a nation on the foundations of rational liberalism and secularism, no one dared oppose him. Because they knew that their seats, their posts, and positions in the new democratic India were because people voted for Nehru, not for the individual MPs. If Nehru resigned, their own positions were at stake. It used to be called Nehruvian consensus. Imagine. A person who grew as an elite, who spoke and wrote in English so proficiently (more than in vernacular), who preached and propagated those versions of Secularism and Socialism that were alien to Indians, he, was more popular in the Indian rural heartland than any conservative of that time. Do you really still say Shashi Tharoor cannot be a leader who can reach the vast majority of Indians? You still think it is not worth a try? Do you want to see how much a capacity India still has to surprise you? Also, you think Rahul Gandhi can do it better than Shashi Tharoor? Seriously?
Why Not Congress-mukth?
There is an argument I hear every now and then that the current BJP Government has the mandate of citizens and hence it should not be a cause of concern for us because ‘democracy is being followed.’ I would with due respect disagree. Democracy is not raw majoritarianism. When we say, ‘Democracy is government by, for and of the people,’ it means it is by, for, and of all the people. Not by, for, and of just a majority. Let’s say, hypothetically, 51% of people vote to support the banishment of the remaining 49% of the citizens of the country, is it sensible to implement it?
In all this binary game of ‘yes-no’s, we are forgetting the basic intent of democracy. Democracy is a practicable framework of governance that will ensure human rights and dignity to all the citizens, not a tool to assert majoritarianism. Which is why there is a concept called Participatory Democracy, wherein citizens, from time to time, check the government and assist the government in catering best to their needs.
And how is this done? Four major ways: Opposition in the legislature, Judiciary, Media, and protest. And each of these four is essential. You cannot say that 3 of them are working fine in checking the government, hence the fourth one need not work. My attention in the current essay will be on showing the importance of Opposition in Parliament.
Let’s take the example of one of the latest bills that the Lok Sabha passed, the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill made provisions for private companies to make as much donation to political parties as they wish, without disclosing the name of the political party they are donating too. If read carefully, it is easy to infer that it is cronyism. Which of the above four checked the passage of this law? Media was busy with Yogiji’s rule in UP (which was also important to cover). Social media even less, with BJP trolls trolling anyone who so much as says a thing against BJP and government. Judiciary couldn’t have acted in such short a time span. And even if it could, the amendment had been made and it had become a law. So, unless, there is a violation of the ‘Basic Structure of the Constitution’, it cannot overturn the amendment. And the Opposition? It was so weak that neither the government nor the citizens took it any seriously. A majority of the amendments were added one day before the final vote after all the discussion had happened and it was passed through the brute force of majority. Could things have been better had opposition been stronger (not in terms of the number of seats but the support it gets from the citizens)? The fact that the same opposition (which had farmers’ support) were able to stall the amendment to Land Acquisition Act 2014 shows it is possible.
Therefore, it is important that the citizens of the country rely also on the opposition for their own good. But for that, it is important that the opposition shows itself to be competent and strong to the citizens. The point I make is, a strong opposition is essential to a healthy democracy. And the closest to opposition in India today is Congress. And the he who is closest to making that opposition strong is Shashi Tharoor.
The example of Nehru that I gave in the beginning of the essay was to address] the larger point that no seemingly elite politician is capable of reaching the masses of the rural heartland of the country. It, however, doesn’t address the barriers that lie between Tharoor and the UPA Candidature for Prime Ministership in 2019. Let me address these as answers to potential questions that might arise about his candidature.
- What about Rahul Gandhi?
I know that Sonia Gandhi is not that naive a person to allow for someone other than Rahul or a puppet to be the PM. But this is politics and, as the cliched statement goes, ‘Anything can happen in Politics.’ Trust me. I am not going to go into counterfactuals. Let’s look at Congress realistically. The narrative in Congress so far has been, ‘We get votes because people vote for the descendants of Nehru and Indira.’ In essence, the brand of Congress was what was giving MPs votes. But has it been working? Did it work in Bihar 2011? In UP 2012? In India in 2014? In UP 2017? Don’t accuse me of being selective. Of course, I didn’t mention Bihar 2016 because it was Nitish-Laloo’s win rather than the brand of Congress’. In the above-mentioned elections, Rahul Gandhi was the star campaigner. And clearly, it didn’t work in party’s favor. There is a high possibility of change in the leadership. A political party can never be owned by a person. It is owned by people. Politics change according to what people want. Status quo in Congress is highly unlikely. Whether I am right or wrong, time will tell.
- What does Congress has to offer to the country anyway?
Important question. If an alternative to Modi is the only thing Congress has to offer, I have no doubt that it’ll not work. I don’t say Congress party doesn’t have an ideology. Its ideology is of Liberalism, Secularism, and Socialism. But these are textbook concepts. Even a middle-class Indian, leave alone rural peasant, would not understand these. You need to have a narrative. The world sustains on stories. Stories of the holocaust, stories of China stealing our jobs, stories of Mexicans polluting our country, stories of EU eating our wealth etc. Stories work. Which is why good politicians are effective storytellers.
Congress too had a story to tell. A story of ‘New Possibilities’ (1950s), then a story of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan’ (Sastri), then a story of ‘Garibi Hatao’ (1971), then a story of ‘Vote for Government that works’ (1980), a story of ‘Sikhs are our enemies’ (1984), a story of ‘Rama Rajya’ (1991). They worked. Now, the dominant Congress story is ‘BJP is anti-Minority’. This story has no robustness. It is not a philosophy, rather a counter argument. So, yes, the Congress has to literally go back to its drawing board. And start making a story that will convey the textbook concepts that it stands for, a story that is robust in itself.
When Tharoor said that Rahul Gandhi might not have a conviction but he wants people to tell him what they want to be done, I found myself in amazement. Surely, Tharoor knows better than that in politics.
- What if Tharoor becomes Manmohan Singh II?
Well, everything is contingent on that not happening. If he remains faithful to the family, like he does now, I take my proposition back. But I am sure that if he were to become a Prime Minister, he would assert himself well enough to be the Prime Minister and not a Principal Secretary of 10, Janpath Road. He has seen and been involved in more politics than Manmohan Singh. That much faith, I do pose on Mr. Shashi Tharoor.
- What about his wife’s death?
What about it? You suggest he killed her? Firstly, not proved. Secondly, let me pose a counter question, what about 2002? Hasn’t Modi been accepted as a leader of the nation? Has he not been delivering moderately well? In any case, I take the stand of Indian justice system, which is: ‘Innocent until proven guilty,’ unless evidence glares out at my face.
So, Modi-mukth Bharat?
I am a full-time Capitalist and a part-time Conservative. And I am a vegetarian too. So, I don’t have qualms with the current regime personally. Yet, I care about the personal liberties of everyone to be concerned about the developments in the country today. The discourse has become more and more polarized (because of lack of stories from one of the sides) and the authority of the government is being asserted at an alarming magnitude. I don’t want a Modi-mukht Bharat. I rather prefer a Bharat where the government doesn’t set precedents that might increase the authoritarianism. For which we need a counter-narrative (not counter-argument, we already have one). I don’t say Tharoor’s ascent is easy. It is difficult. But what that is good is easy? In the end, my nation is bigger than any of these politicians. Yet, my nation is the people in it, not a landmass with boundary.
Picture Credits: Department of Photography, Pearl 2017. BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad.