On a day when the stormy Winter Session of Parliament came to an end, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday said to some degree, the opposition is “complicit in its own marginalisation” as by going in for disruptions, it is unable to voice its positions, but asserted that it was often left frustrated for not being allowed to raise issues.
He said his party is aware of his view that “we should not disrupt” but use Parliament as a platform for debate, and do rallies and agitations elsewhere.
Asked at an event here if the party should have an elected leader and not one who is there by bloodline, in an apparent reference to Rahul Gandhi, Tharoor said, “Frankly people who are there by bloodline can also get elected. In fact, there is very little doubt that Rahul Gandhi if he were willing to contest, he would get elected against anybody else in the Congress because the electorate of party workers has a certain sense of allegiance to the Gandhi-Nehru family for decades now which is not going to be easily overcome.”
“In Rahul’s case, in all fairness he stepped aside, he even made a statement that ‘it should not be me or anyone from my family’, but the working committee went for Mrs (Sonia) Gandhi and pullled her out of retirement and said please lead us. So that is where we are now,” he said.
“I would say that this is a phenomenon across all parties. In SP, was there any question that after Mulayam ji, it would be Akhilesh; in DMK, was there any question that after Karunaidhi, it is Stalin; in Shiv Sena after Balasahab Thackrey, it is Uddhav,” he said.
Tharoor made the remarks during a discussion on his newly-launched book ‘Pride, Prejudice and Punditry’. The event also offered a sneak peek into the three-day literary extravaganza ‘Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival’ and was followed by the announcement of the Longlist of the seventh edition of Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize.
Asked about the repeated disruptions in Parliament and the space for opposition allegedly shrinking, Tharoor said, “To some degree, we are complicit in our own marginalisation, by going in for disruptions, we no longer have a choice to voice our positions for the nation to understand.”
“But I recognise that mine is a minority view. I have not hidden my view and the party is very aware of my view that we should not disrupt, that we should use Parliament as a platform for debate, and do our rallies, dharnas and agitations elsewhere and on the streets,” he said.
There should be a clear distinction as it used to be earlier, but for some time now our politics has become so polarised that this is now manifesting itself in the parliamentary culture as well, he said.
Citing the example of former prime minister Manmohan Singh for reaching out to the opposition, Tharoor said that is not happening anymore and even the parliamentary affairs minister “very rarely reaches out to the opposition members”.
“I think it is bad for our democracy,” he added.
Tharoor said he would like to see more days of sittings in Parliament as well as reforms in procedures of Parliament.
“For example, many western parliaments allow the opposition one day to raise what they want to raise. We do not do that. Only the government sets the agenda….So, the opposition, in its frustration, because it cannot raise issues it wants to raise are forced to go (for disruptions),” he said.
“Imagine if every day opposition had half-an-hour to raise an issue it wants …Why cannot we have a reform like that, because the people in control do not want such a reform,” he said.
To another question on whether Rahul Gandhi would spearhead the opposition charge against the BJP, he said, “Voters will decide.”
“At the moment, what is very clear about the future of India is that it cannot be the BJP that is going to take us into the next decade. We are looking at a BJP that is demonstrated failure for the last seven years. Therefore, the best the opposition can produce would be the way forward,” he said.
In his remarks, Tharoor also said the term G-23 was a “media creation”.
He said the letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi calling for reforms was drafted by some colleagues which “23 of us happened to sign”.
“There could have been more people, but due to the pandemic lockdown, 23 people could be reached. I signed it because there was nothing exceptional… The letter says Congress should democratise itself more, we should revive the parliamentary board of the party, we should have elections to the elected seats of the working committee which are currently filled by nomination, we should revive the party at the grass roots,” he said.
“I did not think signing that, especially since people who were promoting it were very senior figures of the Congress party establishment, would cause as much offence as it turned out to cause. Indeed, it was seen as 23 people in rebellion and I do not think it was intended that way but has been seen that way,” he said, adding that the 23 leaders never met.
Tharoor also talked about the time when he was approached by the BJP after his unsuccessful bid to become United Nations secretary general.
“When the BJP sent an envoy to talk to me in my office in New York shortly after I had stepped down from the unsuccessful race for secretary general, my answer was very simple — ‘don’t you know what I have been writing…and they gave a very nice answer — ‘who agrees with everything their party stands for, does not matter, we are a meritocracy, your merit will be seen,” he said.