Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar is as outspoken as one could get. Responding to the Congress rout in the assembly elections, Aiyar says Rahul Gandhi must accelerate his revamping of the party and the ancient regime must give way to the new generation. Excerpts
Congress president Sonia Gandhi watches Rahul speak at a news conference in Delhi. (Reuters)
What has gone wrong?
Thirty years ago, Rajiv Gandhi said we were losing touch with the toiling millions; that our preoccupation with governance was drifting us away from people. And that a set of brokers of power were dispensing patronage; that there were self-perpetuating cliques controlling the party using slogans of caste and religion.
Are you saying that the party is run today also by a self-perpetuating clique?
I am reading out to you what Rajiv Gandhi said. You are trying to entrap me in a criticism of the present set-up. I am trying to address a systemic issue. It is not as to whether it is so now, but the fact that it has been so for at least 30 years.
Was this an anti-congress wave that we saw?
At the moment, yes. But there is no BJP wave, I insist.
Centre’s performance caused this debacle?
Entirely possible it had some influence. But there is a difference in the media perception of the Centre’s performance and the people’s perception. How did we
win in Karnataka and HP just six months ago?
Do you think Rahul Gandhi is on the right track?
Absolutely. He has revamped student and youth wings, started efforts to integrate panchayati raj representatives in the party system. 24 Akbar Road (Congress headquarters) was the biggest mortuary until he took charge. It is now very active.
So, you are suggesting that Rahul Gandhi must accelerate rather than slow down the takeover by the new generation?
Yes, with the only caveat that the party has always renewed itself with the young.
Will this lead to a clash between the old and new generations?
Every time it has been attempted, there have been clashes between the old vanguard and the new vanguard. Under Nehru, how many of the old Gandhians were sidelined and dropped. Indira sidelined the Syndicate. Rajiv’s term was not so radical but there were replacements.
It is often pointed out the party is controlled by those who do not contest elections.
Nehru had said that the cabinet must be largely of Lok Sabha members with a smattering of RS members. Unfortunately, that ratio has almost reversed. That has contributed to our disconnect with the masses, but systemically, the problem is that our party and governance systems are not based on the panchayati raj institutions.
Will declaring Rahul Gandhi as the party’s PM candidate reverse the sentiment?
Sonia Gandhi has said that it will be declared at the appropriate time and it may be after the elections. I certainly hope that Dr Manmohan Singh continues till the election.
Read: Congress and BJP speed up efforts to form alliances for 2014
Read: Why Congress must fear AAP more than Modi effect
Read: Polls verdict a national sentiment against Cong, Sonia may have to step in
Read: Cong will name PM candidate at opportune moment: Sonia Gandhi