‘Congress has to confront the question of secularism’, says Manish Tewari | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Congress has to confront the question of secularism’, says Manish Tewari

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHarinder Baweja and Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Sep 06, 2020 08:40 AM IST

The Congress party needs to confront the “central question of secularism” and “combat the immoral allure of majoritarianism”, Congress MP Manish Tewari told HT in his first interview since he and 22 other leaders signed a controversial letter seeking sweeping reforms in the party.

The Congress party needs to confront the “central question of secularism” and “combat the immoral allure of majoritarianism”, Congress MP Manish Tewari told HT in his first interview since he and 22 other leaders signed a controversial letter seeking sweeping reforms in the party.

Congress MP Manish Tewari(Raj k Raj/ Hindustan Times)
Congress MP Manish Tewari(Raj k Raj/ Hindustan Times)

In a letter addressed to the interim party president Sonia Gandhi a month ago, 23 signatories called for a “visible”, “effective” and “full-time” leader, and elections at all levels in the party; besides the establishing of an institutional leadership model to collectively guide the party.

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“… There is the central question of secularism. Is the Congress comfortable to interpret secularism as Sarv Dharm Sambhav or should it pursue the classical construct of the separation of church and state? How does the party combat the immoral allure of majoritarianism? With nationalism, the challenge is further accentuated. We are failing to articulate convincingly that our nationalism is infinitely superior to the chauvinistic and exclusionist muscularity espoused by the BJP,” Tewari said.

According to Tewari, 54, the Congress faces “profound electoral, ideological and organisational challenges”.

“The irony is the Congress led the freedom struggle, its leaders shaped the modern Indian nation while the rightwing collaborated with the coloniser. It is astonishing we are failing to appropriate our own legacy while they cynically vandalise our achievements and leaders, and pretend they belong to them. The truth is Gandhi, Patel, Ambedkar -- not one of them approved of the bigoted, hate politics of the right,” Tewari told HT.

Asked if they had provided ammunition to the BJP by writing the letter, he underlined the need for the party to refine its position on various issues like Chinese aggression through debate and discussion.

“...the Chinese have not grabbed BJP territory, they have grabbed Indian territory. Are we not all Indians first and Congressmen, Communists and BJP later?”

He emphasised that “an overall electoral rejuvenation is vital for the Congress to be on a glide path to a majority in 2024. We are currently not on that trajectory”.

Tewari, who was elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019 from the Anandpur Sahib seat in Punjab, said, “The Congress has lost cadre vitality on the ground, where the real electoral battles are fought. These issues require deep thought and sustained action over the long term.”

Asked specifically if the letter-writers had targeted Rahul Gandhi, Tewari said, “Nobody has a difficulty with him, least of all me. But whosoever assumes the mantle will need to embark on a path of serious introspection and action simultaneously or we shall collectively perish.”

He also said that he respected Sonia Gandhi as “much as I do my late mother”.

After a marathon meeting of the Congress Working Committee on August 24, in which the letter-writers came in for sharp criticism, Sonia Gandhi agreed to stay on as interim president and hold elections to the AICC in six months.

The letter, he said, was about “processes, issues and not personalities”.

Soon after the CWC session, the party announced its deputy leader of the Lok Sabha, ahead of the upcoming Parliament session. Both Tewari, a two-time parliamentarian, and Shashi Tharoor were overlooked for the posts. Gaurav Gogoi, 38, who too is a two-time MP, was picked for the post.

Tewari said he had never asked the party for any post. He iterated that he would continue to raise the issues contained in the letter.

“Some of my colleagues do have a problem being called traitors and dissenters. For me, the tag of being a conscientious dissenter works. Labels are irrelevant, issues are vital,” Tewari said.

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