Mohsina Kidwai is one of the oldest Congress leaders who has seen the party's rise and fall since Independence and been part of the team that helped Indira Gandhi tide over the worst political crisis in history post-Emergency.
Kidwai, 85, in conversation with The Telegraph on the party's internal issues, the phenomenal rise of the RSS and India's future:
Q: You have spent over six decades in the Congress. In this era of defections and opportunism, your loyalty to the party appears exceptional. Do you regret it and feel that you could have looked for greener pastures?
Kidwai: Afsos to hota hai... (I do regret). Not because I remained in the Congress all my life but because people nowadays take decisions keeping ideology aside. Congressmen who are joining the BJP should explain whether they suddenly developed faith in the RSS ideology.
Q: So, this is sheer opportunism? Nothing to do with human resource management, leadership and the decay in the party organisation?
Kidwai: No, I am not saying opportunism alone. I am distressed that ideology is no more the core value in the party system. That's the larger concern. But there are organisational issues, of course. We are a mass-based party. Somehow, we have got disconnected with the masses. We don't reach out to the people whereas dozens of RSS outfits ceaselessly work in the field. The District Congress Committees, the block units... they need to ponder over this disconnect.
Q: Who is responsible for this disconnect?
Kidwai: The entire organisational machinery should take responsibility. Everybody holding any post at any level should do his or her bit. Senior leaders in every state should understand this is the time to unite to rebuild, not quarrel and disintegrate. This is not for the first time the Congress is facing a crisis. We have seen far worse days and recovered. There is a need to address the cynicism among party workers.
Q: Everybody who quits the party blames Rahul Gandhi.
Kidwai: That's wrong, irrational. If it is the responsibility of just one person to deal with every issue, solve every dispute, what is the need for systems at every level? If there is a crisis in a state, the PCC president should try to resolve it. If that doesn't succeed, the general secretary in charge should tackle the problem. Factionalism is not a new problem in the Congress. They have been managed in the past. Why do defections start only when the party is not in power?
Q: You are conceding there is a problem in the organisation and that the top functionaries are not doing their job?
Kidwai: Look, there is no magic wand to solve factionalism or personal issues. Somebody will have to work on them. Is it the job of Sonia and Rahul only? The PCC chief should talk to district chiefs, ordinary workers and address their concerns. It is unfortunate general secretaries are not doing their work. How many days do they spend in the states they are supposed to look after? They have to go to the states, stay there, talk to the leaders and workers.... A message has to go down that the high command is concerned, willing to look after them.
Q: But general secretaries and PCC chiefs are being accused of fuelling factionalism, nurturing groups, running discriminatory regimes...
Kidwai: That's unfortunate. Those who are in the leadership role at the state and central levels must keep the party's interests above personal and factional interests. They should also convey the true picture to Sonia and Rahul. Nobody can be bigger than the Congress. Decisions should be taken only in the party's interest, that's the key organisational principle. Unfortunately, in some cases, I hear information is not passed on to the top leadership with objectivity and impartiality.
Q: Leaders who have recently left and joined the BJP say Sonia, Rahul don't meet, don't listen.
A: Soniaji rebuilt the party, her contribution is remarkable. Rahul is working very hard. He goes to every state... look how he campaigned in Uttar Pradesh. We should also realise every problem need not be taken to them. We never ran to Indiraji with every small issue. And those who join the BJP have to attack Sonia and Rahul, that's the ritual. For persons like me who have suffered the British rule and seen India grow, the main question is ideology. Not only the Congress leaders who join the BJP, even the Prime Minister must clarify what his ideology is, what kind of India he wants. The youths who are supporting him should know the direction and destiny.
Q: Who doesn't know what the Prime Minister's ideology is?
Kidwai: I only want to ask the Prime Minister to explain whether he has full faith in the Constitution or not. He should clarify whether the goal of Hindurashtra and subjugation of Muslims are part of his agenda or not. He should explain whether what Guru Golwalkar and Savarkar said and aimed for were right or not.
Q: But Modi never said he would follow them. He has adopted Mahatma Gandhi.
Kidwai: That's the problem. Where is Gandhi's truth and non-violence? Gandhi's tolerance, his respect for all religions? Gandhi stopped the non-cooperation movement because of the Chauri Chaura incident when the freedom struggle was at its peak. (Freedom fighters set on fire a police station, killing many persons in Chauri Chaura in Gorakhpur district in 1922). Anybody who pretends to follow Gandhi should act decisively against violence. RSS supporters are indulging in wanton violence against Muslims and Modi remains silent. And today it is Muslims, they will not spare liberal Hindus either.
Q: But how is your party confronting the communal forces, by holding news conferences and making statements?
A: I agree we cannot match the RSS's planning, strategy and energy. They have been working on one agenda since 1925. But remember, only the Congress can fight the RSS. I am sorry to say all other parties in India have failed to take the RSS threat seriously.
Q: Now the BJP is penetrating the Muslim community with issues like triple talaq...
Kidwai: Since its inception, we (Muslims) are the target of the RSS. Women need justice, there is no dispute on that. But why have they suddenly become worried about Muslim women? Didn't the RSS oppose the Hindu code bill? Isn't it true that India would not have got this Constitution, which gives legal safeguards to the minorities, had the Congress stalwarts not stood up to Hindutva pressure groups in the Constituent Assembly? Instead of using talaq as a tool to divide Muslims, the BJP should think about the fear psychosis in the community, their real issues like safety, education, employment....
Q: You obviously don't agree with the New India propaganda of the BJP but what's the future?
Kidwai: I am sad the New India propaganda is based on the false presumption that the benchmark for assessment is 2014. We have seen the dark days of British rule and how Nehru built a new India. India's first budget was Rs 171.15 crore and the last in 2017 was Rs 21 lakh crore. Did Modi generate this wealth in three years? The new India should remember the Congress developed the country when the RSS-BJP was doing Hindu-Muslim, mandir-masjid. The youths should recall which organisation grew under the shadow of Gandhi's assassination. And the future....? Iss mulk ka mizaz aisa hai ki firkaparast taqaten hamesha chal nahin sakti (The mindset of this country is such that divisive forces can't flourish for long).