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regular-article-logo Monday, 15 April 2024

In raised hands, message for Hand: An argument between two ideas of democracy

The conversation, titled “Will Democracy Win?”, saw Congress MP Shashi Tharoor defend his goal like the keeper of a school team facing a Premier League striker — in the form of BJP national executive member Vinay Sahasrabuddhe

Pheroze L. Vincent Mumbai Published 24.02.24, 05:00 AM
Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Shashi Tharoor and Vir Sanghvi at the ABP Network’s Ideas of India Summit 3.0 in Mumbai on Friday.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Shashi Tharoor and Vir Sanghvi at the ABP Network’s Ideas of India Summit 3.0 in Mumbai on Friday. Picture courtesy ABP Network.

Barely 5 per cent of the crowd attending a panel discussion on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls at ABP Network’s Ideas of India Summit 3.0 here on Friday raised their hands when asked whether the Opposition stood a chance.

The conversation, titled “Will Democracy Win?”, saw Congress MP Shashi Tharoor defend his goal like the keeper of a school team facing a Premier League striker — in the form of BJP national executive member Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. Despite a fair referee — a nicety that the Congress rarely enjoys these days — Tharoor couldn’t help but be a traditional Congressman who means well but offers tired defences and out-of-date explanations in the battle of ideas with a triumphant BJP.

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To be fair to Tharoor, he raised a few points that did get the heads of younger members in the audience nodding, even if it was feeble — points such as why any young person would vote for Modi a third time in a country where the youth unemployment rate has gone up to 45.4 per cent according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

But Sahasrabuddhe had the audience wrapped around his fingers by making the right noises. He told the crowd, mostly of business leaders: “What India is experiencing today, all Indians, is a democracy of aspirations. There is optimism all around. And people really want to take this country into the era of Viksit Bharat as envisioned by PM Narendra Modi.”

After the audience poll towards the end, discussant journalist Vir Sanghvi perhaps reminded them that their opinion was similar to that of similar gatherings in 2004 — when the BJP’s India Shining campaign failed to get the party re-elected.

But Tharoor’s shyness of challenging Sahasrabuddhe’s claims perhaps even surprised the latter.

While Tharoor cited the MGNREGA, RTI and the right to education, he did so in defence of Sahasrabuddhe’s misleading suggestion that the BJP government was the first to make any significant policy intervention for hawkers and artisans. Tharoor not only seemed to forget that the Street Vendors Act was passed by the Manmohan Singh government, but also that right from before Independence, his party’s key programmes had centred around artisans and khadi.

Tharoor then went into how the BJP was merely better organised and better funded than the Congress. “How many times will you buy a package that is empty?” he asked, gazing at the college students at the back, perhaps hoping they would answer him rather than Sahasrabuddhe.

“Everybody has spoken about democracy but Modi has ensured that democracy delivers,” said Sahasrabuddhe to a silencing applause. He then dropped another full toss, almost as charity to Tharoor to hit a six. Tharoor dodged it like a somnolent batsman at a Sunday neighbourhood match.

“We have improvised MGNREGA. In your time, it was merely dig a pit and fill the pit. Now there is a mechanism whereby we are creating places of public utility,” claimed Sahasrabuddhe. Tharoor — an MP from a state whose villages are filled with decade-old NREGA-funded public works — merely replied: “We started it…. What evolved under you, would have evolved under us.”

In his absent-minded praise of the Modi government’s evolution of the NREGA, Tharoor perhaps forgot the massive protests against the Centre withholding Rs 6,911 crores in wage dues to Bengal.

An audience member asked Tharoor if he was going to join the BJP like some of his colleagues have. He replied: “I can’t move in your direction precisely because of the communalisation of the political discourse of which I am deeply ashamed.”

To Tharoor’s suggestion — “You call us pseudo-secular; be truly secular and stop demonising people” — Sahasrabuddhe replied in the oft-exchanged BJP coin, that the Congress’s politics was based on “What will they think?”

Without referring to Muslims, Sahasrabuddhe said: “They are not they, they are from us only.”

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