Then & now of Indian politics

Sudeep Chakravarti and Margaret Alva at Central Park on Friday. Picture by Mayukh Sengupta

Calcutta: Margaret Alva, in her trademark bindi and neatly draped sari, has lost her voice ahead of the heat and dirt of the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections. But not one to be silenced, the veteran politician spoke her mind and heart at the Kolkata Literature Festival, in association with The Telegraph, on Friday.

Her prediction: Congress will retain Karnataka.

Speaking at a session titled The Nation Wants to Know: The Then and Now of Indian Politics, Alva regretted that politics has degenerated into downright violence.

With 50 years of experience in Indian politics behind her, Alva is of the opinion that "Politics stays politics, people change, perspectives change." She was replying to journalist-author Sudeep Chakravarti's question on how politics has changed over the years.

Recalling the generation of leaders who fought for Independence, she said: "They didn't do it for posts, they weren't even sure they would get Independence because the British were so entrenched at the time. They were on a mission."

"After Independence, such leaders continued in office, they gave us the Constitution, laws. Then came the 60s.... The politicians were more educated and sophisticated, they were not on a mission, rather they were in a profession," Alva said. But serious change came post 2000, when it was all about taking and not giving.

Alva is pained by political violence. "Settling scores, political murders, journalists supporting a person or party being targeted, Lankesh's murder..." her voice trailed off.

From Indira Gandhi and how it was possible "even during Emergency... to disagree with her and put forth my point" to a comparison between the mother-son relationship of Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi and that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, Alva shared her thoughts on a myriad topics. "Sanjay Gandhi was an assertive and aggressive son. Rahul is much gentler. He is soft-spoken and would rather talk to people and carry them along with him," was Alva's assessment.

The recent Gujarat Assembly elections mark the coming of age of Rahul, said Alva. "He has emerged out of his mother's shadow, he has taken to decision-making, choosing the right people. Right now he is in Karnataka. You will see a change in Karnataka. People are willing to listen to him," she said, adding: "Congress to succeed has to bring back leaders who were neglected."

Alva had words of admiration for Mamata Banerjee, a "a committed Congress worker", who was neglected and wronged and "so she walked out". "They cracked jokes in Parliament about her, but she single-handedly fought the Left and now she is the supreme of Bengal politics. All glory to her."


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