'If there is anyone who is a victim of vendetta politics, it is me.'
"The BJP wants to shock and awe its opponents into submission. Some people submit, while others keep going on."
Karti Chidambaram, the first time member of Parliament from Sivanganga in Tamil Nadu, discusses what the Congress party needs to do to revive itself in the second segment of an exclusive three-part interview with Rediff.com's Archana Masih.
What are the top measures the Congress needs to take to remain relevant in 2024?
The Congress is not irrelevant. It is not winning elections. Anybody who believes in a liberal India will automatically gravitate towards the Congress, but 'liberal' is a very nebulous term.
The Congress needs to start defining what it stands for in a concrete manner which appeals to aspirational India.
The BJP on the other hand, constantly promotes its agenda stridently. The BJP only keeps its core voters happy and clearly communicates its basic agenda to this section of voters.
It keeps 30% of the electorate that votes for them pleased; not the remaining population at large.
The party wants to please this core voter by doing things that appeases them and appeals to their beliefs. The overtly Hindu and anti-Muslim agenda plays to this core group of voters.
The Congress also has its core values. Millions of people believe in a liberal, inclusive and fair India, but the Congress is unable to communicate a clear message to them.
We need to reinforce a proactive agenda to co-opt these voters.
We can't speak of nebulous ideas like liberalism without specifying it. We need to clarify what it means on the ground like equality before the law, end to discrimination, etc.
I do not agree with the BJP's agenda, but they come up with concrete things like building the Ram temple which is a distinct, specific activity.
The Congress also needs to come up with a distinct, specific agenda like bringing healthcare at a massive level to the population of India or making higher education completely free.
When you say the ideology of the Congress needs to be communicated clearly, what are some of the salient points of that ideology, especially for young people?
Our economic agenda needs to be very clear.
We need to tell people that we intend to strengthen government activity in infrastructure.
We need a clear plan of how to make business simpler and easier.
We need to give boost to ease of doing business. Access to credit must be more transparent and easier.
We need to socialise access to higher education in such a way that the cost of education comes down.
The Congress needs dramatic ideas.
Aspirational India wants 4 things:
1. Access to education
2. Access to jobs
3. Affordable housing
4. Access to quality healthcare
We don't talk about urban and middle class India enough. India is urbanising rapidly.
Tamil Nadu is urbanising very fast and we need to talk about urban issues like public transport, affordable housing, health, guaranteed water and electricity, English medium schools, affordable higher education and job creation.
The Central government should write off all student loans. Today the average student loan is 4 lakh rupees. Students have been unable to repay loans because they are unable to get jobs.
I am not diminishing the issues of rural India, but the aspirations of young Indians need to be addressed effectively.
You say that the Congress is not irrelevant; it is not winning elections. Why is the Congress unable to provide a sustained challenge to the BJP?
The BJP has enormous resources, but we are not communicating what we believe in forcefully. We need to have a positive agenda which we must communicate effectively.
We need to prepare for elections much in advance and empower local leaders. We cannot centralise election management.
The BJP has a lot of advantages because it has many satellite agencies working for them like the government and the Sangh Parivar.
The Congress also needs some additional and supportive agencies for our campaign and agenda, but most importantly, we need to define our values and translate them to meet the aspirations of young India.
The BJP is communicating its agenda to its core voters more clearly than us.
Why do you say your party is not irrelevant when it is being battered electorally from all sides?
Each state is different and what happens in one state has no bearing on the other. We need better management, fine tuning, strategy and implementation well in advance.
The Congress' preparation is slower. We are slower off the block than the BJP.
The Congress has been in the wilderness for six years, what lessons have you learnt?
The BJP was out of power for 10 years, would you say they were in the wilderness then? Losing a couple of elections does not mean we are irrelevant. The Congress is in government in several states.
I am a lowly first time MP and can't speak for the whole Congress party. Certainly, there have been personal lessons I have learnt since 2014. I'm sure like me, many others must have imbibed lessons from the loss, but I don't know if the Congress as a party has intitutionalised those learnings.
What are your thoughts about vendetta politics which the Opposition has time and again said the BJP is using as a political tool?
I am the most raided person in India. I have been raided five times.
The only reason I have been raided is because my father (former finance minister P Chidambaram) continues to be the most consistent and vehement critic of the BJP.
If there is anyone who is a victim of vendetta politics, it is me.
The BJP does not like political criticism and therefore wants to silence its opponents. The BJP continues to do that by using all organs of the state.
The kind of trivial notices I get will make for a serious case study some day. One day somebody well versed in the law will write about the systematic harassment of political opponents by the BJP.
The BJP wants to shock and awe its opponents into submission. Some people submit, while others keep going on.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com