How do you see the current state of the Indian polity in the context of the decline of the Congress and the emergence of the BJP as the ruling party at the Centre?
We are witnessing an unprecedented consolidation of the conservative forces. The liberal voices have been suppressed, either directly or indirectly. Communal tension is on the rise across the country. This is leading to riots in various places. The current situation of communal polarisation is the outcome of a conspiracy orchestrated by the RSS and some corporate houses. The RSS dreams of building a ‘Hindu nation’ and the corporates want to bag huge profits in the shortest possible time. We have already seen how certain corporates enriched themselves suddenly by looting Gujarat’s natural resources.
Are you saying that the consolidation of conservative forces led to the rise of Narendra Modi?
In reality, most of the people are concerned with issues such as their livelihood and the education of their children. But there are well-organised political forces with vested interests that are sowing the seeds of hatred. They are creating divisions on the basis of religion and caste. There has been a rise in incidents of caste violence after Modi came to power at the Centre.
The RSS says that all Hindus are brothers. But, then, why are some brothers discriminated against and tortured just because they belong to the lower castes? Is it a sin to be a Dalit? Modi and his party publicly claim that they are against untouchability. But all the sacred texts that the RSS swears by reiterate that varnashrama (the division of society into four varnas) is part of our culture. Untouchability is inseparable from the rubric of varnashrama, which fosters inequality. When they believe in varnashrama, how can they eradicate untouchability?
This contradiction reflects the foundation of lies upon which the Modi regime is built. Politics based on unleashing religious and caste-based emotions won’t be good for the country. Modi takes pride in being an RSS man. The RSS uses different polarising strategies in different regions and states. They even invoke BR Ambedkar to get votes.
We all believe in one nation. But we don’t believe in one religion. India has a rich diversity of traditions. It is important to maintain unity in diversity; that is the basic philosophy of the Constitution. One should not forget that the preamble of the Constitution clearly says that India is a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. It cannot be a dictatorship.
Are you suggesting that the Modi regime stands opposed to these foundational ideas?
Yes, it is. The regime is slowly taking on the contours of a dictatorship. Hero worship leads to dictatorship; that is a lesson of history. Absolute faith in one person will lead to the degradation of democracy. No prime minister before Modi had devoted so much time to state elections. They used to groom the regional leadership. But in his rallies for the Assembly elections, Modi exhorted the people to vote for him, not for the party’s state units. What he implies is this: “If you don’t vote for me in the Assembly election, don’t expect anything from me.” Can anyone talk like that in a democracy? Our Constitution recognises a federal system of government. So Modi cannot say that people should not expect anything if they do not vote for him. It shows that he is not interested in listening to diverse views.
Are you disappointed that the Congress was denied the Opposition party status?
If you believe in democracy, they should recognise the opposition. Modi wants ‘Swachh Bharat’, but does he have ‘Swachh Vichar’ (clean thinking)? He does not respect democratic principles. He could have been more sensitive instead of quoting technical reasons to deny us the Opposition party status.
Do you think that the Nehruvian values of equality, secularism and democracy are now under threat?
Those values are under tremendous attack. I believe that the Nehruvian project of inclusiveness as well as not subscribing to ultra-market fundamentalism is good for a country like India. Now, there are conscious attempts to belittle (Jawaharlal) Nehru. Hype has been generated around Modi and the Mangalyaan. But it was the Nehruvian legacy that created institutions like the IITs.
Modi has deployed a shrewd public relations strategy to create an impression that the previous governments did no good for the country. But the country cannot be built in a day. Modi can fool some people for some time, but he cannot fool all the people forever.
But it was Manmohan Singh who started the process of rolling back Nehruvian economic policies. Nehruvians like you and Mani Shankar Aiyar were sidelined during the UPA-2 regime, which went all out to promote aggressive neoliberal reforms.
To have economic growth, we need investment and industries. But there should be some reasonable restrictions. We need growth as well as inclusion.
It was alleged that experts such as Montek Singh Ahluwalia played a major role in diluting the UPA’s welfare policies.
There is nothing wrong in listening to technical experts in policymaking. But the political leaders, who are connected to the masses, should take the final decision on crucial policy issues. It is unfair to brand the UPA-2 as a government that neglected the poor.
But, then, why was the Congress so badly trounced in the General Election?
The RSS and certain big industrialists created a hype around Modi with the help of the corporate media. No one exposed the reality of the Gujarat model of development. What exactly were the achievements of the BJP during the long years of uninterrupted rule in Gujarat? Why did the BJP fail to bring the state at par with Kerala in terms of social and human development indices? Is the Gujarat model No. 1 in education or healthcare? The answer is a big no, but no one asked those questions. Instead, certain vested interests propagated that the Gujarat model is the best and should be replicated at the national level. Why is the media so biased? Even young, educated people fell into the trap of believing the propaganda as the truth.
Youth across the country look up to Modi as an exemplary mass leader and a champion of good governance. Don’t you think there must be some basis to it?
Modi is an RSS pracharak. And his mass-leader tag was cleverly constructed.
Why does the Congress lack mass leaders with that kind of appeal?
We are doing serious introspection. Connection with the masses is an important factor in parliamentary democracy. I believe that the creative application of Nehruvian policies will help the Congress regain lost ground. Once the hype around Modi is exposed, the people will look for an alternative. A rejuvenated Congress will provide that alternative.
As a former labour minister, what is your take on the labour law reforms being promoted by the Modi regime?
Modi is attacking the interests of workers in the name of promoting industries. I fear that even the tripartite system in industrial relations (the government as an independent mediator in disputes between workers and the management) will be under threat.