Recent months have sadly been filled with obituary references for close friends and loved ones.
There is another kind of sadness in having to pen farewell notes to political colleagues who have chosen to desert the party in these trying times. The departure of Jitin Prasada, a friend in his own right and the son of my late friend, Jitendra Prasada or Jiti bhai to us and Bava Saheb to most others who respected him, comes with great concern and deep regret. It is regret because he had promise as part of the new generation of Congress leadership and it is a concern that despite conspicuous favour and support from the top leadership he chose to join the very forces he had vigorously opposed and castigated.
Should Jitin Prasada Be Harangued as a Betrayer?
Does it help to harangue him with questions like, ‘were you right then or are you right now?’
We of course cannot entirely forget that late Jitendra Prasada was perceived by many of us as having betrayed the Congress President in challenging her in party elections. It might be argued that it was his democratic right and that certainly is technically correct. But relationships are a lot more than just black and white rules of entitlements. The curious thing is that there is seldom an explanation that is morally plausible. There was none then and there is none now.
It might make sense if a party member decides to leave for reason of neglect felt justifiably or unjustifiably although most such colleagues continue to put up with their situation. But those who have left in recent times are people who have had generous opportunities.
Politics as a Career or Pursuit of Ideology?
Shashi Tharoor has in his inimitable style made a distinction between people who join politics to pursue ideology and those who treat it as a career. It is this where the desertion of young leaders underscores the concern. Is it that outer democracy has congealed into power play where the absence of money often leads to the absence of power?
Thus, either money ensures power or vice versa power ensures access to money. Public life in contemporary India is split between reality and perception, between what is spoken as being politically correct and what is inevitably done as expedient. Therefore, many a passionate public reiteration of faith in the leadership and the party becomes suspect just as carefully worded departure statements are received with cynicism and derision.
Congress Must Return to Ideology to Return to Power
But to return to the concern that must be addressed for there is no knowing that there will not be further attrition. It must remain our objective, even ambition, to get back into power, if not for ourselves, certainly for the country. We can neither turn ourselves into an NGO nor deny ourselves the element of pragmatism inevitable in politics. But at the end of the day, it is ideology that we have to return to, to recharge our energies.
The application of ideology might differ with changing times and attitudes. But the core cannot be lost sight of. We often confuse strategy with ideology. For the former one needs a strong head whilst for the latter we need a strong heart. The Congress party has a rich heritage of sacrifice but we do not seek reward for it indefinitely; all we hope for is that we ourselves will be inspired by it and in turn will inspire a new generation of Indians and persuade them to join us in reliving the experience of the great souls who devoted themselves, body and soul, to the idea of India.
‘Battle for the Mind and Heart of Indians’
Money cannot and must not overcome the mind in our world view and politics.
Ironically our contest with the BJP and their allies is also about the disproportionate money garnered by the ruling party but also their intent to impose their unwholesome ideology on the mind of India. Dr Manmohan Singh once described it as the battle for the mind and heart of Indians. We might have looked to be slipping in the early rounds but thousands of great and small members of the Congress have faith and confidence that we shall overcome one day.
Have Defections Strengthened the Congress Party?
It makes sense to say that we cannot just sit and watch the attrition take place. Then there are hard nuts who believe it does not hurt to let the weak hearted and faithless be jettisoned periodically to spruce up the organisation. They go back to history to point out that the Congress emerged stronger from verticals splits in the party, not to speak of stray defections.
But things have changed: many of the talented who left us are now heading governments in major states of the country. It might be argued that they found the space that was not possible in a unitary national party. Yet after regional success they all look to a larger role across the nation but of course in collaboration with each other. Ultimately it is all about ones footprint upon the sands of time. Who knows how the wind will shape the sandy terrain? I am reminded of a Japanese couplet that gave the title of a book:
On the board it says, ‘Do not pluck the flowers, But the wind cannot read.’
(Salman Khurshid is a designated senior advocate, Congress party leader, and former Minister of External Affairs. He tweets @salman7khurshid. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)