'Rahul Gandhi has been underestimated and misunderstood. Time will prove that the nation will one day appreciate the alternative style of leadership he represents -- one that is inclusive, consultative, democratic and empowering rather than top-down one-man rule.’
‘The Congress party represents the right values and has a national footprint. Don’t write us off just yet.’
‘If a BJP member called Modi a joker, would that party’s reaction be any less? It (suspension of a Congressman who criticised Rahul) is about party discipline, not servility.’
Shashi Tharoor speaks to Shobha Warrier on the controversy over his article seen as praising Narendra Modi and what the future holds for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi.
Shashi Tharoor became a member of Parliament from the Thiruvananthapuram constituency for the second time after a hard-fought battle against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s O Rajagopal, becoming one of the only 44 MPs who won on a Congress ticket.
Soon after his win, his article Modi 2.0: How India's new prime minister may have evolved, (external link) created a furore among Congressmen. It was one of the most talked about opinion pieces on social media.
In this email interview with rediff.com’s Shobha Warrier, Tharoor answers a few questions on the article, the Congress party's humiliating loss, and his belief in Rahul Gandhi's abilities as a leader.
Your article appreciating Narendra Modi was one of the most talked about articles after the elections. You were quite harsh on him on Twitter while the campaigning was going on. Was it the way people of India accepted him that impressed you, or the way he conducted himself after his astounding win that prompted you to write the article?
The latter, as the article makes clear. Wish people would read what I wrote and not selective paraphrases of my views!
Social media was full of stories on you changing sides and supporting Modi. Is there any possibility of you moving away from the Congress party?
Absolutely no question of my changing sides. Anyone who knows my views -- I have a paper trail going back more than 25 years -- knows that my fundamental convictions about Indian pluralism, liberty, freedom of speech and social justice have never wavered.
One of your harshest critics after you wrote the article was Mani Shankar Aiyar. He ridiculed you in his blog saying, the Congress had only 43 MPs now. What is your response to his blog?
The one thing Mr Aiyar’s blog doesn’t deserve is a response from me.
It was reported that you had to meet the top leaders of the Congress party to explain the reason behind the article. Did you have to?
Completely false, like almost everything I’ve read about myself in the media. Our top leadership has better things to do with its time.
Unlike in the past, do you feel today's politicians do not rise above party politics?
Some do, some of the time.
Now that the Congress party has been given a humiliating defeat by the people of India, what would you say about the leadership qualities of Rahul Gandhi?
I think he’s been underestimated and misunderstood. Time will prove that the nation will one day appreciate the alternative style of leadership he represents -- one that is inclusive, consultative, democratic and empowering rather than top-down one-man rule.
When senior Congressmen like T H Mustafa criticised Rahul Gandhi's abilities as a leader, he was suspended. Why is it that the Congress party is so servile to the Nehru family?
This is about party discipline, not servility. If a BJP member called Modi a joker, would that party’s reaction be any less?
Do you think it is high time the party looked beyond the family for able leaders?
Your question implies that the family are our only leaders. In fact we have leaders throughout the country and at all levels.
Or, like many others, are you also of the opinion that Priyanka Vadra should come forward to save the party?
I don’t know her well enough to respond to that question. But it’s rather like discussing someone’s suitability for best actress when she hasn’t even auditioned for the role. Give her a break -- she isn’t an MP, hasn’t contested for Parliament and has campaigned in only two constituencies. Let her first decide whether she wants a national role in the party.
How tough was this second election for you? What were the odds against you?
It was tougher than I expected. Clearly we didn’t calculate the odds very well.
You were trailing BJP candidate Rajagopal most of the time while the counting was on. Did you lose hope at any time?
I wasn’t behind most of the time -- but for an hour and a half, as his lead climbed to 12,000, I thought I was done for. Then we started pulling back and I was about 7,000 ahead when they took an agonisingly long lunch break to count the postal votes and the last round of ballots. In the end I prevailed by 15,700 votes.
Was it relief that you felt once the results were declared?
What do you think? An immense relief!
A Malayalam TV channel released a video of you asking the members of a church to canvas for you, and it was not well taken by many people. Why did you indulge in such vote bank politics?
Another completely false story. The absurdity of the charge is all the greater because I am the one candidate who ran a totally secular, non-communal campaign. It never happened, and the so-called sting recording doesn’t reveal anything of the sort.
I meet people of all backgrounds, faiths and professions all the time, and the tape proves I said exactly the same thing to the pastors who had come to see me as I said to all others, namely why they should vote for me on the basis of my work as an MP. I have never canvassed in the name of religion or community. I wonder if my opponents can honestly say the same thing.
When I interviewed Mustafa, he said if Modi performed well like he did in Gujarat, it would be difficult for the Congress to come back to power. Now that Modi is off to a good start, your reaction to this comment?
It is far too early to tell -- as I pointed out in exactly those words in my article. The Congress party represents the right values and has a national footprint. Don’t write us off just yet.