Congress' nationalism is historically grounded and inclusive

Congress hasn’t been assertive in talking about nationalism: Tharoor

Senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor is known for his impeccable English vocabulary that can give scholars a run for their money. In a chat with Bharath Joshi of DH, he keeps it simple when he says the Congress will return to power in Karnataka, and how the party is positioned for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.  

You head the All India Professionals’ Congress (AIPC). What is its role in the Karnataka elections?

The AIPC is very much on the ground trying to help the election campaign. We’ve got colleagues who’ve come from other parts of the country to see how Karnataka is going and contribute their own bits — from Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu. I do want to stress that the larger purpose of the AIPC is for professionals to have a voice in politics.

Does the Congress have a problem with its urban image?

That had been the perception. I think it’s going to begin to change. Historically, the Congress has focused a lot on the welfare on the rural poor, because the bulk of our poor people happen to be in the rural areas.

So, a lot of our major schemes — MGNREGA, farmers’ debt relief waivers, Minimum Support Price — targeted rural, poor people. As a result, the BJP went out with the message: they don’t care about you in the cities.

How will the perception of the Congress’ weak urban image change?

We believe that the problems people face in urban areas today are problems the Congress has demonstrated capacity to help resolve. Therefore, we’re going back to them and saying, this is what we’ve done and what we can do.

You had earlier said the Congress should articulate its own nationalist narrative to counter the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Does the Congress have its own nationalist narrative now?

I hope so, because there’s no doubt in my mind that we were the original party of Indian nationalism. Somehow, and rather preposterously, the BJP — whose ideological fore-bearers were almost entirely absent from the freedom struggle — has suddenly managed to don the cloak of being true nationalists.

It’s also reflective that we’ve not been sufficiently assertive in talking about our nationalism. Our nationalism is both authentic, historically-grounded and inclusive whereas the BJP’s is very much a sectarian, narrower vision of the nation.

In that case, isn’t it uncharacteristic of the Congress when the Siddaramaiah-led government here boasts of regional pride?

But you know, I think Siddaramaiah has been careful to always say that he talks about regional pride in the same breath that he talks about national pride. He quoted a line of poetry which said essentially, “We’re proud of Karnataka as the daughter of India.”

Similarly, I’ve been fond of quoting a Malayalam poem that says, “When you hear the name of Bharat, your heart must swell with pride. But when you hear the name of Kerala, the blood must throb in your veins.” It’s that regional pride and national pride can and should co-exist.

For the first time, the Congress in Karnataka moved towards becoming a cadre-based party. What significance do you see in this shift?

That’s clearly the way of the future. The BJP has relied on the storm troopers of the Sangh Parivar to go out, do the squad work, knock on doors, stick the posters and so on.

The Congress party has tended to rely on volunteers. Our political workers are not necessarily full-time. They’re not sort of seen in the past as having the same sort of ideological fervour that motivates either a Communist cadre or BJP-RSS cadre. I think those days have to change.

In becoming a cadre-based unit, is the Congress aping the BJP?

No, no!

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