'Somehow, Rahul Gandhi is not able to connect with the youth of the country.'
'While Modiji is 72, Rahul is only 52.'
'But the popularity of the prime minister among the young population is a lot more than Rahul's.'
The exodus from the Congress to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is not news these days.
It no longer surprises anyone when people are abandoning a sinking ship.
But in Kerala, it surprised everyone when Congress veteran A K Antony's son Anil Antony left the Congress to join the BJP.
A K Antony is not just any Congressman, he was a trusted lieutenant of the Gandhi family and served as defence minister in Dr Manmohan Singh's government.
Soon after Anil Antony joined the BJP, his father told the media that he was pained and hurt by his son's behaviour. His younger brother urged him to come back to the Congress.
But Anil stuck to his guns. Perhaps the BJP sees him as the 'minority' face to draw young Christians to its side.
After Narendra D Modi's visit to Kerala last week where Antony Jr shared the dais with the prime minister along with other young achievers from Kerala, Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier spoke to Anil Antony about how he came to be in the BJP.
The first of a two-part interview:
You were on the dais with Modi along with other young achievers in Kochi. How was the experience?
It was fantastic and it was my first public event after I joined the party on the 6th of April.
The event in Kochi was organised by Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the party, and it was also a part of the G20 initiative.
It was great to be with many young accomplished men and women, which include artists and Padma award winners.
Kochi was totally electrified by the PM's presence. It was an honour to share the stage and interact with him at my first event itself.
I am thankful to the BJP leadership for giving me the opportunity.
What made you join the BJP, a party that talks about Hindu, Hindi and Hindu Rashtra?
These misconceptions were there for a long time. But in his very first speech as the PM, Modiji had made it clear that he would like to work for all Indians and take them forward.
When I was in the Congress, they always used to describe the BJP as a Hindi, Hindu, Hindu Rashtra party.
The BJP itself talks about that...
That's not something the leadership ever talks about. You just look at the election results of the party after the new leadership of Modiji and Amit Shah ji have taken over.
Look at the way the party has expanded. Most of the expansion is not in the Hindi heartland but in the areas where the party was non-existent seven years ago, like Bengal, Tripura and the other North-Eastern states...
You were a member of the Congress party. When did you start looking at the BJP from a different perspective, that it is not a Hindu party?
After I saw the ground level work of the party and the reaction of the people. It is quite evident that the Hindu, Hindu, Hindu Rashtra is a misconception.
I have been in Delhi for the last nine years and I have travelled to almost all the states many times. In my travels, I got a chance to interact with people.
That was when I realised that the narration I heard when I was growing up in Kerala, did not align with the ground realities.
I also found that the political decisions of the BJP were taken with people in mind.
Did seeing the positives of the BJP coincide with your disappointment with the Congress?
It is a combination of both. I grew up as the son of a Congressman, and I had been interacting with a lot of his colleagues both at the state level and national level ever since I was a child.
Over time, the Congress changed drastically. The party that existed 30 years back or 20 years back or even 10 years back is not the party of today.
What kind of changes? You mean the party has been losing election after election?
See, the party is losing elections for a reason. It is losing elections because it is getting more and more disconnected from the public consciousness.
It is also getting more and more disconnected from young India.
In the vast majority of the country; the Congress has only some existing voters from long time back.
Young India has completely rejected the party, and that is because it does not resonate with the young population in any manner.
Has it anything to do with Rahul Gandhi who by political standards is comparatively young?
I would say, he is a big reason.
India is a young country where almost 60% of the population is below the age of 40 and the average age of the population is 27.
While Modiji is 72, Rahul is only 52. But the popularity of the prime minister among the young population is a lot more than Rahul Gandhi's.
Within the Congress, somebody like Shashi Tharoor at 67 is more popular among the youth. I have noticed that in Kerala, he is way more popular among urban youth than Rahul Gandhi.
Somehow, Rahul Gandhi is not able to connect with the youth of the country.
Is it because he is not accessible?
Personally, Rahul Gandhi is a good man. I have interacted with him many times, and I have found him to be a decent human being.
But because of the kind of people he has surrounded himself with, he is disconnected from Indian ground realities.
We have a young aspirational population, and they have political, cultural and economic consciousness which is quite different from the times we got our independence or even in the 1970s.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com