Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tells Saubhadra Chatterji the party is staring at a grave crisis and it is “now a deep discount bond” after the shocking performance in the Delhi assembly election.
Nine months into the worst Lok Sabha defeat, the Congress has suffered its worst election tally in Delhi. Is the Congress story over at least for the next decade?
Absolutely not. The Delhi result is shocking, demoralising. We were in power for 15 years and we lost 15% votes in last one year. But it’s not the end of the road. It would be premature to write the epitaph of the Congress. We have a small consolation that the BJP, too, has been decimated. Our expectations from Delhi were modest but BJP’s expectations were grandiose.
After the last Delhi election, the Congress vice-president said the party needed to learn lessons from the AAP victory. What lessons did you learn which resulted in this big zero in the next Delhi election?
(Rahul) Gandhi has always been saying that the AAP has run away with his platform and agenda. What he stood for is implemented by the AAP. The Congress should have been implementing Rahul Gandhi’s vision and politics. The lessons to be learnt are the door-to-door campaigning, bringing new faces and a level of empathy with the people, shunning arrogance and the trappings of power, nimble footedness in communication, accessibility and visibility of leadership. We must learn these lessons. We have to be less arrogant and pre-occupied with ourselves.
The AAP has emerged as the alternative to the Congress in the fight against the BJP. Views?
No. I think people are still angry with the style of the Congress. There is not much difference between the substance of the AAP and the Congress. Style makes it different. The party had even stolen the plank of aam aadmi from the Congress.
How can you compare the scam-tainted Congress with the AAP?
Let the AAP be in power for some years. Who knows, they may also end up in some corruption allegations. Yes, it seems there is a perception among people that the Congress stands for retail corruption.
Is the Congress undergoing a course correction?
It can’t be business as usual for the Congress. This is not just an electoral crisis. We are facing an existential crisis. I am sure the Congress president and vice-president are aware of the magnitude of the huge challenges we are facing. We have to collectively put our best foot forward. We need new, energetic faces that carry credibility and can communicate. We need faces that are not arrogant.
We put far too much importance on individuals but we need to get our structures right. The belief that an individual has a magic wand is wrong.
In 2019, do we see Arvind Kejriwal as the most credible challenger to Narendra Modi?
Mr. Kejriwal came as a cropper in Haryana. Whether the AAP is going to be a Delhi-centric party or it can be a model to be replicated across the country is yet to be seen. I would also reserve my judgement on their governance aspect of AAP. They are brilliant in agitation, but their credentials to provide responsible government is yet to be tested.
A large part of the Congress has shifted to the AAP in Delhi. It is a worrying signal. But there had been many comets in Indian politics. Let’s see if this comet Kejriwal hovers only around Delhi or it can have a larger footprint in India.
What can be the impact of the Delhi results in the upcoming Parliament session?
It is the government’s duty to build a consensus but there haven’t been efforts to reach out to the Opposition. Many political parties are opposed to the land ordinance and the coal ordinance. But speaking as a professional, you can’t equate the land and the insurance ordinance. Even P Chidambaram, who is the greatest advocate of the insurance ordinance, has reservations about the land law amendments.
Will the next three years be crucial for the Congress?
Next three days, next three months are also crucial. We are fast losing time. We do not have the luxury of time. We have to run twice as fast to stay where we are. We have lost huge ground. We are no longer a premium product. Congress is now a deep discount bond and that has to change. The Congress is a mighty Indian elephant. It takes time to move. But once it moves, it does so in a determined manner.