Known to be young and aggressive face of Congress in TV debates since long, Shehzad Poonawalla has now turned rebel and has called the whole procedure of selecting the Party president in Congress, a “rigged” process. In an exclusive interview to Organiser Correspondent Nishant Kr Azad, he has questioned the Congress’ dynastic politics and argued that sacrifices of somebody’s family cannot be the sole reason for anybody to be leader of the Party forever. Excerpts:
Rahul Gandhi becoming the Congress president has been a foregone conclusion. Why have you raised your objection now before the Gujarat election?
This is so because there is no wrong time to do the right thing. In this country, elections are held after every few months. I joined Congress Party and started working for it since 2008-09 onwards. From 2011 onwards I wrote several letters to Rahul Gandhi’s office requesting them for an appointment with him. It has been six years and still they have not given me time. In 2016, I became the office bearer of Maharashtra Congress and I pursued the matter. I have e-mails and messages to prove my claims.
When Rahul Gandhi said it again and again that “I am going to change the system, open the system,” we thought he should be trusted and be given an opportunity. We did not want to weaken the larger cause. But it seems that every time he has taken up a task whether it was in AIYC, NSUI, General Election 2014, etc. it became more dynastic and more feudal than before. Roughly 48 per cent candidates of 2014 Lok Sabha election were dynasts. Most of the State presidents in Congress nowadays have dynastic background—be it Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana, Punjab. So the Party has become more dynastic and feudal rather than becoming less. There should be a policy of ‘one family-one ticket’ in the party. Then in Berkley, Rahul Gandhi said, “For dynastic politics don’t blame me, blame Indian society.” Moreover, Rajiv Tyagi, an official spokesperson of the Congress Party came on television ten days before the Congress presidential election (coronation) process started, even before Rahul had filed his nomination and declared that he will be president not for ten years, but for hundred years. This cannot be called as election. If we don’t raise our voice now, then when?
How do you see Rahul Gandhi as a leader?
You see, the people of India have to decide. People of India decided in 2014, what they want. They decided between two people—one person who claimed that he has the legacy, a yuvraj background, and the other person claimed of having a chaiwala background. What did the people select? Not only that, after Mani Shankar Aiyar’s useless jibes, people rejected the Congress with worst ever defeat securing only 44 seats. That was a clear indication that dynastic politics is not working. This has been repeated election after elections. An exception like Punjab, it was not won because of a family, but because anti-incumbency against Akali Dal Government was on display. Nobody is ready to vote for a dynasty.
Is it possible to run Congress without Gandhi family?
I don’t want to see Congress without Gandhi family. I want to see Congress where Gandhi family gets its space due to real elections, not due to selections, not due to psycho fancy. I am not saying ‘Gandhi mukt Congress’, I am saying ‘dynasty mukt Congress’. You must put up the performance parameter. If you are winning consecutive elections or contesting genuine elections within the organisation, it could be Gandhi, Modi, Poonawala, or anybody could come. But if subsequent losses are also giving you the top position on platter, then it is not the principle of Mahatma Gandhi.
Do you think the Congress is dependent on the leadership of the Gandhi family alone?
Gandhi family has lost two members of their family for the country. But the respect and sacrifice cannot be the reason for them to be leaders of the Party forever. No one can be on the top because of their family’s surname. I would like Rahulji to be the president of the Party because of his first name, and not because of his family or surname ‘Gandhi’.
You have questioned the selection process of the Congress Party president and called it “rigged”. Except one or two, all the political parties in India are family based Parties. In this situation how do you see your future?
My aim is to lower the dynastic quotient in Indian polity. Dynasty should have been an exception to the rule. Rule should be generally based on merit. All parties should come forward for this cause.
Beside dynasty, corruption is also an issue which pushes Congress on back foot. Why didn’t you raise any question on that?
I will raise all the questions. I just want that Modi’s Government which has raised these legitimate questions should start sending people who have been involved in corruption to jail. The moment stringent actions are taken by the Government against alleged offenders; allegations would turn into evidence against the culprits. Thus, I am waiting for the Government and agencies to act.
Do you have any support within the Party for this cause?
In this country 99 per cent of the countrymen don’t have well known fathers and forefathers. This can be boasted by merely 1 per cent of the total. The same is there within the Congress Party. There may be people who agree with me in-principle but may not have the courage to speak out. One person can do the ‘mann ki baat’ but it can certainly be a ‘jan ki baat’.
Ashok Chavan said “a true Congressman would never make such remarks; you are doing this for cheap publicity.”
I have respect for Ashok Chavan. But let me tell you about a tweet from Shashi Tharoor. He wrote to me that we respect your hard work for the Party, keep up the good work. I’ve been getting letters from Maharashtra Pradesh Committee which is only for party members. I am on the strategic committee in Maharashtra Pradesh Committee which has been signed by Ashok Chavan. There are many evidences. Why are they resorting to lies and not answering my questions? If my questions about election process are right, I should be allowed to contest elections.
Your brother and your family declared that they are ending all relations with you. How do you react to that?
My brother’s loyalty is towards one family. My loyalty is towards hundred crore people. I respect my brother’s priority for one family but my priority is towards my Party, my country, and principles of Mahatma Gandhi.
After Himanta Biswa Sarma, you are another person who dared to speak against Gandhi family and the present Congress culture.
Himanta Biswa Sarma was a respectable member of our Party and it is unfortunate that he had to leave the Party. See, I don’t agree with his terminology and the way he has put things. But I agree with his
sentiments. As far as I am concerned, I wanted to talk about the dynasty politics and people around Rahul are scared about their own fate. They never let him meet me.
Any plans to join BJP seeing the way attacks are being hurled on you by other Congress leaders after your remarks?
I have huge differences with BJP and Sangh Parivar. The question of joining any party will only arise when I leave my Party. I won’t leave Congress Party and I will struggle for repairing its structure by being inside it. If Congress Party expels me, then new events will lead to changes.