Tuesday, March 28, 2023
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Shashi Tharoor: Congress members must constructively criticise Modi, not go after my tweet

My tweet has been twisted and reported (and denounced) as ‘praise for Modi’. Where, I have asked innocently, is the praise? No answer.

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It began, as so many controversies seem to these days, with a tweet.

When my Congress colleague Jairam Ramesh, whose credentials as a loyalist and an advocate of progressive policies are beyond doubt, was quoted in the media as saying that we should not “demonise” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian media, with its relentless ability to make mountains out of molehills, erupted. My friend Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who has defended innumerable Congress leaders in court, agreed with him. When asked my views, I tweeted:

“As you know, I have argued for six years now that @narendramodi should be praised whenever he says or does the right thing, which would add credibility to our criticisms whenever he errs. I welcome others in Oppn coming around to a view for which I was excoriated at the time!”

At that point, the dung really hit the fan, especially in Kerala, where Congress leaders reacted as if they had caught me in the boarding-school tuck-shop with my hand in the cookie jar. Angry denunciations were issued by all and sundry; one dashed off an outraged letter to the interim party President Sonia Gandhi; another invited me to leave the party and join the BJP (the irony that it was barely eight years since he himself had rejoined the Congress after leaving it and attacking it for years, was not lost on many).

Also read: Lack of clarity in party leadership is hurting Congress, says Shashi Tharoor

What was really said

Now let’s take a deep breath and see what those who are deemed to have committed such sacrilege, really said.

Jairam Ramesh had reportedly affirmed that it is “time we recognise PM Modi’s work and what he did between 2014 and 2019 due to which he was voted back to power by over 30 per cent of the electorate.” He had added that Modi spoke a language that connected him with the people. “Unless we realise that he is doing things which people recognise and which have not been done in the past, we are not going to be able to confront this guy….Also, if you are going to demonise him all the time, you are not going to be able to confront him,” he warned. One report stressed that he mentioned he was not asking anyone to applaud the Prime Minister, but just wanted the political class to “recognise the traits he has brought to governance”.

Not only do I not disagree with any of this, it is pretty much what I said in 2014, for which I was publicly criticised by my own party leadership, reviled in the Kerala party newspaper, and removed as a party spokesman. That’s why, when asked on Twitter, I responded as I did.

My tweet has been twisted and reported (and denounced) as “praise for Modi”. Where, I have asked innocently, is the praise? No answer. My critics seem to feel that since Modi has done nothing worth applauding, I should not have said that our attacks on him should be tempered by the occasional acknowledgement of his right actions – everything he does, in their view, should be seen by a true Congressman as vile.

Also read: Demonising Modi, not recognising his work won’t help: Jairam Ramesh warns Oppn

A realist way to get Congress back

Now, I am the first to say there is not much in the positive ledger, as I have pointed out at length in my 500-page takedown of the Modi government, The Paradoxical Prime Minister. But he has been effective in taking his vote percentage across India from 31 per cent in 2014 to 37 per cent in 2019, and as a party which stayed at around 19 per cent in both elections, we in the Congress need to make an effort to understand why. Clearly enough voters thought Modi was delivering something for them – we need to acknowledge that, but point out its limitations: yes, he built toilets, but 60 per cent of them don’t have running water; yes, he gave poor rural women gas cylinders, but 92 per cent of them can’t afford refills. But if we act as if Modi has done nothing, however flawed, and people still voted for him, then we are saying that people are stupid, which is not a position that wins you votes.

I want Congress, together with progressive, secular and liberal parties, to come back to power. For that, it is not enough to keep attracting the core Congress supporters. We need to win back the trust – and the votes – of those who deserted us for the BJP in the last two Lok Sabha elections. That requires addressing what has attracted them to Modi. Then, our criticism has more credibility. That’s all I have been saying.

Also read: Congress today doesn’t need a leader or an election win, it needs an ideology

Being a constructive opposition

Several loyal Congress members have taken me to task for the phrase “don’t demonise Modi”, when no one has been urging the PM not to continue demonising Congress leaders. “Don’t demonise Modi” is not my phrase – they need to ask the person who used it what he meant. But it’s clear that the BJP, for its part, clearly thinks I have demonised Modi, because they have filed two cases against me for my critical remarks, in one case seeking an arrest warrant, which my Congress critics should hail as a badge of honour, instead of demonising me!

I am proud of my record for several years, in and out of Parliament, in standing up and speaking out in defence of the progressive, secular and inclusive principles and values of the Congress party; and in identifying, analysing and skewering the ruling party’s assaults on the idea of India and the nature of our Constitution. I am more than slightly mystified to be seen by some in my own party as some sort of BJP-inclined Modi sympathiser. Does no one read these days, beyond screaming “breaking news” headlines scrolling past a busy screen?

I had lamented my excoriation by the Congress in 2014, and hoped Jairam’s statement in 2019 was an admission by some of the Congress establishment that I had been right all along. There is a growing recognition of this sentiment in the party today and I urge my well-intentioned but misguided critics to look at the national picture and realise how we have to revamp our strategy to become a winning party again.

Be fierce in our criticisms of the Modi Government, as I have been, but make sure our criticisms are taken seriously by the public because they are occasionally balanced against acknowledgements of genuine examples of right actions. Show the public that we stand up for national interests first, and demonstrate that those interests would be safer in our hands than his – by agreeing when he takes the same stands as we would, and disagreeing strongly when he doesn’t, as well as pointing out the failures in his execution of chosen policies. That’s what a constructive opposition does – and what the Congress should.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 18 books, both fiction and non-fiction; his most recent book is The Paradoxical Prime Minister. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.

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  1. He is right but doesn’t go far enough. Congress needs to address the “pseudo secular” tag. To reclaim secularism Congress needs to change its regressive policies as exemplified by the Shah Bano legislation and now the opposition to Triple Talaq.

  2. Congress is all about the family glue, which a 73 years’ young Madam Sonia, and a part-time Pappu can’t hold together for long. Dissenting voices within the party will grow whilst a 56” chest keep surprising the country with Balakot, Art 370 etc. The Hindutva dimension nothwithstanding Modi’s innings does have some schemes that sell. Congress has nothing to sell to a young 120cr country; Modi-bashing is a poor product invented by a tired and lazy bunch of pillocks within the party. Taroor & Co are simply re-inventing the Congress wheel and getting subsumed in to it. We would expect you having to write many explanation pieces like this going forward.

  3. When Rahul made absurd unsubstantiated charges that the BJP gave RS 30000 cr to Ambani in the Rafale case, no one including his own colleagues , believed him. It is this kind of illogical and ill thought out attacks that Tharoor is asking his colleagues to avoid. Even Rahul would do well to listen, for a change.

  4. Kerala Congressmen are jealous of Shashi Tharoor’s national popularity and want to bring him down in the Congress high command’s eyes. Petty politics

  5. A Demon can’t be demonised , only wait as India has hope & survived in spite of them. As for Tharoor he is looking for a berth in BJP.

    • syed bhai, please open your eyes. i can understand that it will be very very difficult to do so, it would have been equally difficult for me too if i was in your shoes. But please try.

      I don’t want to get into a debate with you. I already know all the arguments you would throw at me, trying to paint modi as a demon. I would only humbly request you to go beyond it.

  6. Congress is doomed whether it likes or dislikes Modi’s actions as long as Modi is sincere in taking right steps that majority of Indians want him to take. After loosing people’s mandate in 2014, Congress has been in hurry to return to power without even understanding why people have dumped it. Congress leaders continue to demonize Modi for the work that people want to be done. This is projecting Congress as acting against the wishes of the people. This way Congress revival will be restricted to the homes of Congress leaders and their pat dogs.

  7. There is no positive criticism for a destructive man…. lest he will take that too as his right to destroy more. Modi does everything under the cover of some weird logic backed by narratives spread by his bakths and paid media.
    A decaying corpse of a dog has beautiful shining teeth may be an example of ultimate optimism but the same thing may not be applicable for the same dog if snarling at us to bite. Modi n his party has come to power with a hidden agenda against the idea of India , rest is just show n noise to look like democracy. Modi also makes believe every one that he is for inclusive values but is he ? So where is our wisdom in deducing what’s next…The whole world knows this govnt has not chosen by fair polls, did you say anything on that…..we lack that prudence to act knowing he will do anything for power. Is it wise to be soft on the bull that’s going to attack you ? Is it wise enough to search for his good things for the sake of being gentleman when there isn’t any to find? Is it not stupidity to give his false narrative making factories the chance to attack a party that you believe in , just because you wish to be good with them? Once the enemy is known it’s only natural to act as they understand ….tell me a single Cong man who left the party who had a clean background ? You are not the last to know in all your high thinking that Modi and team play politics on the weakness of others than their virtue since they have none. So please do not give them the fuel to fragment Cong further. We are fighting a fascist force and that can not be done by giving them candies but candles to show the light and heat. If top leaders like you and the people you mentioned can not see through BJPs games without any rules should know we are in deep trouble and the dung going to hit the fan is thrown by ourselves. Simply count where country stands now away from 2014 after the baton is handed over…. Has Modi done a single thing that brought India one step towards development but spread out huge project that floats like oil on water to deceive voters. You have the examples in your article. Let’s regard him as he is and not fall into his trap of politics nor frightened by his
    foulplay displayed in P Chidambarams case sending warning signals … these are the usual modus operandi of fascists

    • As long as Johnsons exist among Indians, BJP irrespective of Modi has bright future. As time passes more and more Indians would dump the Idea of Congress’s India and accept the Idea of Indians’s India where India is ruled by Indians and not by fake Indians with Italian or British blood.

    • ”We are fighting a fascist force” Is it worse than your fundoos you regularly export to India from across the border.

  8. Dear sir, huge respect for the courage and determination with which you have stood for the ethos of Congress even during this period of quandary heading towards catastrophe. I always believed that the reason for your continuous electoral success is your audacity to be vocal about the ideals which you stand for. However, in my opinion, the ideals of secularism, constitutional principles, and inclusiveness work well with the people of your constituency(perhaps the state and southern India to an extent). On the contrary, it may backfire in certain places where the minds are rigged because of bigotry and polarisation. We have to evolve bespoke strategies to reach different masses of society. We have to accept the fact that the ruling party has certainly succeeded in this aspect.
    The way ahead for INC could be
    1. Propagating secularism and inclusiveness as steps towards wholistic development ( which is less likely in the contemporary context). Here rationalism will be a vital cog.
    2. The opposition should also fall in line with the ruling party in terms of accepting cynicism and hate politics (which is not something which the Congress stands for).
    Taking a cue from your article with regard to ‘constructive criticism’, I would like to discuss the miserable failure of the counter-narrative “Chowkidar Chor Hai”. In my view, Congress should have created an alternative narrative to challenge the “Chowkidar” slogan than doing it with a counter-narrative.
    All said and done the BJP was successful in taking its ideals to the people of different classes. On the other hand, unfortunately only a few congressmen voice out the ideals which Congress stands for.
    Moreover, Congress is confined to a few elite intellectual statesmen who are not ready to reach the masses to propagate Congress’ philosophy. It is high time that the Congress high command realizes the mandate and starts the process from the bottom up. Certainly, it will not be difficult for an organization like that of the INC which instilled the quest for freedom among the Indian populace using the same approach… of course it takes a bunch of fearless, determined and honest leaders to pioneer this movement. I strongly believe there is no dearth of such talent in the INC… there are many youngsters from different walks of life who are convinced by and committed towards the real Congress ideals but are bereft of opportunities.
    I write this with hope and wish that you would take a lead in pioneering this mission of regaining and redesigning this secular fabric called INDIA.

  9. Tharoor is wasting his time. The Congress party understands only ONE thing, that the ‘Family’ does not like ANY positive reference to Modi, and actually LIKES ridiculing of Modi by Congressmen. How can they NOT go after his tweet?

    • Rajan NS – True, it was the family which started with the Maut ka Saudagar dialogue. They think 55 years of family hegemony will not be questioned. Those days of throwing crumbs at the electorate and sarkar mai-baap attitude is gone. It is not coming back ever. The INC needs to reinvent itself with fresh blood, and leaders with a connect to the grass-roots, the High Command model is not going to work, and they will see single digit seats in 2024. The BJP succeeded because they did the donkey work of getting to work with the people, and what their needs are and how to delivery governance to the grassroots. That took them from 2 to 353 (yes they earned those ally seats with a well stitched pre-poll alliance). The INC hasn’t done that in ages (if ever it has).

      • Completely agree. Very well said. But, they still strut around, their noses in the air, as if they have 400 plus seats in the Lok Sabha.. Their smugness and arrogance which brought them tumbling down has still not left them, despite crushing, humiliating successive defeats. And without any political position and experience, PGV is the worst of them.

        • People like Mani Sankar aiyer feels he and his friends are all from Cambridge and Harvard and they have the monopoly to rule the natives. They should have the right to loot the country without ever being questioned. Their arrogance has no limits.

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