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The Rediff Interview / Nawal Kishore Sharma

'The Congress does not have any charismatic leaders. But no party can survive by the shine of one charismatic leader forever'

Nawal Kishore Sharma was Sitaram Kesri's first appointment to the Congress Working Committee after he took over as party leader. Kesri also entrusted the responsibility of organising a convention to revive the Congress party to Sharma. In this interview with Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Delhi, the mild-mannered Rajasthan politician outlines what lies ahead for India's oldest political party.

The Congress party has been talking about a convention like this for years. What is this convention all about?

Every political party should be clear about its policies and programmes. Especially in India where a lot of changes have taken place in the last 50 years. The Congress party has also suffered setbacks -- it has been suffering setbacks after 1989. I feel one reason for this is lack of clear policies on any issue.

The Congress Working Committee, which is the highest authority of the party, feels it will be in the interests of the party if senior leaders and other functionaries interact with each other. The current leadership of the Congress is undergoing change. We have to analyse the situation, so we feel the need of the hour is a camp to reactivate party workers.

What subjects will be discussed at the camp?

Four issues will be discussed:

  • Some policies we agree with the UF government and some we differ with them. So we need a well defined economic policy.

    We will also discuss how to strengthen our electoral base, especially the backward classes which have kept a distance from the Congress party and how to bring them back to the fold. How should we get the support of the youth? Why are our youth disenchanted? How can we bring them to our party?

    We would also like to discuss how to strengthen the party at the district and village levels and reactivate Congress workers. How can we change the party structure so that people can interact with senior leaders?

    Finally, we will discuss foreign policy -- co-operation with neighbours under the changing global economic perspective.

    This convention will be similar to the camp held at Narora, Uttar Pradesh, when Indira Gandhi was Congress leader. Can you recall for our readers what that camp was all about?

    The Narora camp was organised in February 1973. Nearly 200 Congress leaders assembled there. And it was decided that similar camps would be organised at the state level all over India, to reactivate party workers and educate them about policies and programmes. Possibly this time, we will have the same kind of approach.

    What was the response then? And how did it help the Congress party?

    The response was very good and it helped the party understand the problems of party workers all over the country. We debated the party's resolutions. Every member had enough time to speak. It was very helpful to understand the overall performance of the party.

    Where will this year's camp be held?

    Certainly not in any of the cities. It will be held in some village, distant from the cities so that the participants are not disturbed. They must get time exclusively for this camp.

    P V Narasimha Rao also had plans to hold such a camp Why did that not take off?

    When Rao was elected as party leader, he decided to hold this kind of camp. He had planned to hold it in Bhopal. I don't know why it did not take off.

    Do you think it was a mistake not to have organised such a camp earlier?

    If we had held the camp we would have done better in the general election.

    Why has the Congress lost its appeal among the people?

    The answer to this question will be discussed at the camp. Everyone in the Congress is also wondering why the party has been relegated to this position. The Congress party's strength has come down to 147 members in Parliament. Never in the party's history have we faced such a position. This is what we have to analyse at the camp. Have we committed errors in economic policies? How do we appeal to all sections of society?

    Do you think the Congress lacks charismatic leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi?

    Not exactly. But it is possible that a charismatic leader may be one of the reasons for the party's present condition. But that is not the only reason. Even in Rajiv's time we lost elections. We lost Gujarat in 1975, we barely came to power in the 1974 Uttar Pradesh assembly election. Of course, Indiraji and Rajiv were charismatic leaders.

    The Congress does not have any charismatic leaders now. But you cannot have charismatic leaders forever in your party. No party can survive by the shine of one charismatic leader forever.

    In many villages people used to vote for the Congress party by thinking of Indiraji and Rajiv Gandhi. But the political system in India has changed. Today, no party in India has a charismatic leader. In fact, today in India, we do not have any leader who is of national stature.

    What about Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

    Yes, to some extent. But not everywhere.

    In your opinion, how far has the the liberalisation of the economy affected the party?

    Liberalisation as such has not affected the party. I feel in the world context you cannot be isolated. Therefore, liberalisation to some extent is a must. But not at the cost of people. Not at the cost of affecting small and medium sectors which employs hundreds and thousands of people. Liberalisation is a must, but not at cost of people's jobs.

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