As a child, Ashwini Kumar dreamt of becoming the Chief Justice of India. But, as he tells the Hindustan Times, “Lord and leadership” willed otherwise. The lawyer is now a Rajya Sabha member, the minister of state for industries and a die-hard Congressman.
Minister, lawyer and RS member… but few know of your long association with the party in Punjab. Would you like to share some moments of your early political career?
My family has been associated with the Congress for three generations. But my formal connection began in 1976, when I was appointed joint secretary of the Gurdaspur District Congress Committee (DCC). I am now an elected member of the AICC from Punjab. I am, therefore, 30 years old in the party and have risen through the ranks. Special moments? My first appointment in DCC Gurdaspur and my first nomination to the Rajya Sabha in 2002, when Sonia Gandhi personally informed me on phone that she had selected me as the party's nominee for the lone Rajya Sabha seat from Punjab. My political life has some silver linings for which I am ever grateful to the Lord and the leadership.
Critics say you do not have a political base. Would you not want to enter Parliament through the Lok Sabha?
I am active at the grassroots and spend considerable time in Gurdaspur and in Punjab. If and when the High Command directs me to contest, I will do so with pleasure. Political activity is not just about contesting elections, it is also about being in regular touch with citizens. The concerns of the poorest of the poor must be uppermost on our minds.
You are the only lawyer in your family. What was your inspiration?
In my school days, I was a movie buff. My favorite actor “Dadamoni” Ashok Kumar played the role of a lawyer and judge in several films. That inspired me. As early as in Class VI, I declared at a function in school that my ambition was to be the CJI. That didn’t happen, but I do have the comfort of a fulfilling career at the Bar. I was designated Senior Counsel by the Supreme Court in 1986 at the age of 33 and later appointed as Additional Solicitor General of India at 37.
You majored in International Law and ‘International Terrorism’ was the subject of your M Phil. dissertation. Can you relate your research with your experiences with terrorism in Punjab?
After the Lod's Massacre, I thought I should write my dissertation on a subject that had sent out ominous signals for global peace and so, wrote on the legal control of International Terrorism. Little did I know then that Punjab would have to face the brunt of terrorist activity. When I presented a copy of my dissertation to Rajivji, he asked in a lighter vein if I had also given a copy to the terrorists. In 1986, Rajivji sent me to the UNGA as a non-official member of the Indian delegation and I spoke against terrorism.
Punjab elections are due early next year. Do you have a roadmap for the state in the midst of political bitterness between the Congress and the Akalis?
Democratic polity cannot be sustained in an atmosphere of intense acrimony. The Congress government in the state has taken bold initiatives to restore vigour to the state’s economy but such is the political atmosphere that it has become impossible to have a rational discussion.
As MoS for industry, what do you consider your major challenge?
We have to urgently increase the share of manufacturing in our GDP to ensure its global competitiveness and employment-expansion capabilities. For this, we require advanced technology and quality manufacturing. India surpasses China in skill-based manufacturing and that’s where we must continue to invest.
Do you see the UPA government surviving its full term?
I have no doubt that the sagacity of Smt Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh will ensure the resolution of all issues. They have invested the alliance with a unique moral authority at a time when the country's politics is in quest of a moral anchor.