Some years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a very senior person in the Congress Party. The meeting was arranged with his office and he met me –on time, in a small conference room. With him were two associates. He was gracious and polite and heard me out. I made a few points, he listened attentively, asked some good questions, offered a few good points, and then thanked me for coming. The meeting lasted about 30 minutes. As I left, I gave one of his associates a few things I had written- including a small essay on Nehru. I felt good about the chat- it was substantive and my interlocutor listened.
The opinions I offered were I think important, if unoriginal. Though discussions meander and develop tributary streams, the points were basic-
- All politicians today must win on the strength of ideas not on the laurels of legacy.
- Congress should never repudiate the brilliance of our Freedom Movement or of Congress’s contribution to the growth of modern India, rising out of the ashes of colonial depredations, but that we have to find new, relevant, metaphors to appeal to Indians today.
- Congress must offer the true hope of progress to the Youth of India in a language and through media that they connect with and to. A new vernacular must take root.
And the most important of all-
Congress must not always respond tit-for-tat to the BJP’s rhetoric. If so, then we are suggesting that the BJP agenda is THE ONLY grounds for discussion and as such they set the agenda permanently and irrevocably. Congress must have an agenda of its own.
This point clearly supports the notion that ideas –and not legacies and reaction –are the basis of true leadership.
Since that meeting, the public sphere in India has further been debased. Parsing history, parsing words, and deploying logic seem to have little place in a time of ideology, violence, fear, and anti-intellectualism.
Or is that giving up too easily? Activists the world-round have said that change is made possible precisely when the idea of something different seems impossible. This is true not because of some Pollyannaish ivory-towerism but because the individual tends to be unaware of how many other people are feeling the same pain and anguish and how many other people want a new dispensation.
For India, the time has come. A seemingly monolithic power is neither as sturdy nor as permanent as it appears.
But to face it, to run against the castle, requires strength, integrity, ideas, persistence, intelligence and creativity.
And for this reason, for what it’s worth, I write in support of Dr. Shashi Tharoor’ s candidacy for President of the Congress Party.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Tharoor for 14 years, though I was very familiar with his work before. He is a thoroughly decent human being- polite, charming, and amiable. He is a fantastic conversationalist possessed of a supple mind and a desire to learn. He is as energetic as anyone I’ve ever met and he takes all of his responsibilities seriously. His integrity shines bright. Though he is a fount of knowledge, he listens carefully and is fantastic with attribution- he gives intellectual credit where it is due and always welcomes new ideas and new perspectives.
What is more, Tharoor does not fit neatly into one category. He has precisely the sort of creative and idea-based dynamism that Congress needs. He speaks with passion and authority about the Freedom Movement but also of modern history and modern issues. He can charm octogenarians and engage our Youth. He can discuss philosophy and praxis. He is astride many worlds.
Tharoor’s appeal transcends political labels. He and I agree on much and diverge on much as well, but that doesn’t for a moment change my view of his leadership characteristics or his integrity.
India needs a dialectic political sphere. Caesarism of any kind, at any level, is dangerous. India needs strong institutions. They are under vicious attack and many have already buckled. India needs to rebuild. We need new ideas and new metaphors. India needs a strong Congress Party.
Shashi Tharoor would make a great Congress President.