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'Hindus of this country won't accept polarising Modi'

June 17, 2013 22:51 IST

'We are not fighting against any individual, but the BJP's policies which are dictated by the RSS,' says Congress veteran Mohsina Kidwai.

Mohsina Kidwai, 80, is among the senior-most leaders in the Congress today, having been associated with the party for nearly five decades.

Known for her proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family, Kidwai has held several positions in the party and the government. She was a minister in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre, headed the party unit in UP and has been an All India Congress Commitee general secretary and member of the Congress Working Committee.

Kidwai, who sent in her resignation from party posts before the weekend's organisational reshuffle, spoke to Anita Katyal about her long innings in the Congress and the challenges faced by the party and its vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

You resigned from your positions in the Congress well before the organisational changes were announced. Any particular reason?

I sent in my resignation letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi about six days ago. Nobody asked me to put in my papers. This was my personal decision.

I believe it's time for a generational change in the party. Rahul Gandhi should be given a free hand to build his team.

This is a natural phenomenon in any organisation. The old make way for the young. The Congress has always encouraged and groomed new leadership. That has been one of its strengths.

Take my example -- I joined the party when I was young and inexperienced.

How do you see the road ahead for Rahul Gandhi?

Rahul has to usher in a generational change in the party which has become inevitable. We need young people with a commitment to the party ideology.

They need to be guided, given responsibility and made to realise that the country's future is in their hands.

Every generation comes with new ideas and this is necessary. Circumstances change and the country evolves fresh challenges are thrown up everyday.

After all, the challenges faced by (Jawaharlal) Nehru were not the same faced by Indira Gandhi. Similarly, the challenges faced by Rajiv (Gandhi) were not the same faced by his mother. It is the same with Rahul.

People mocked Indira Gandhi when she took over, describing her as 'goongi gudiya' (mute puppet). People made fun of Rajiv when he came to power.

Similarly, people are saying all kind of things about Rahul Gandhi, but we don't care. He will prove his critics wrong like his father and grandmother.

Don't you think Rahul Gandhi has inherited a far weaker party than his father or grandmother?

From being the single largest party in power at the Centre and in the states, its footprint has decreased over the years.

The Congress has always been a mass-based party. The party is bound to suffer when its workers lose touch with the people and that is what has happened over the years.

The party organisation has also become weak in the states and the main reason is that we drifted away from the masses.

We need to rectify this and reach out to the people once again.

Rahul Gandhi's emphasis on strengthening the party organisation is absolutely right. We can only hope to do well in elections if our party is strong. He needs to focus on this aspect.

Do you agree that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi will pose a real challenge to Rahul Gandhi in the coming election?

We are not fighting against any individual, but the BJP's (Bharatiya Janata Party)policies which are dictated by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

I genuinely believe that the Hindus of this country are essentially secular or else we would not have the kind of Constitution we have.

We have full faith in the secular credentials of the country's majority -- it will never accept a polarising figure like Modi.

You have witnessed many changes in the Congress over the past five decades. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge before the party today?

Having been at the forefront of the freedom struggle, the Congress has always had a core ideology of secularism and inclusiveness. The party derives its strength from this ideology.

The biggest challenge before us today is to ensure that this ideology remains intact. I genuinely believe that it is intact despite the changes the party has undergone over the years.

This is why the Congress has sustained itself all these years. It is the strongest political party despite its depleted strength in Parliament and the states.

Another big challenge is to ensure the unity of the country.

This has always been our strength and we should not fritter it away. During the freedom struggle, people fought as one, rising above their caste, regional and religious identities.

That is because we were all working together to achieve a specific goal. We could not have got our freedom if we had not sunk our differences and participated in the movement as one.

So you think this has changed. Is the country's unity endangered?

I would not go as far as to say that, but times have changed. Every generation has different and new views. That is to be expected. The generation today has little association with the freedom struggle.

The big change I see today is the rise of caste, regional and religious identities. Caste and religion are being exploited for political gain. This was not the case earlier.

You have had a long association with the Congress. How do you look back on your stint in the party?

I belong to a traditional Congress family whose ties date back to Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru. My bonds with the family span three generations.

I am fortunate to have worked with Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and now Sonia Gandhi.

Rajiv Gandhi once said I was like a member of his family.

I was particularly close to Indira Gandhi. I would say that was my golden period. I was a minister in the Uttar Pradesh government in 1973 and Indira Gandhi appointed me president of the Uttar Pradesh party unit.

It was an exception to hold two posts in those days; the party adhered strictly to the one-man one-post principle.

Both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi had a vision for the country and tremendous affection for its people.

Indira Gandhi's big strength was her ability to take decisions and stick to them.

Image: Mohsina Kidwai

Anita Katyal in New Delhi