French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, an expert on India and the BJP, talks to Pranay Sharma on what a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ forebodes for India. Excerpts:
Many are predicting a complete rout of the Congress in this parliamentary election. Do you share that view?
Congress will definitely suffer a setback. But a complete rout would mean that the party would not be number two in the Lok Sabha. That is doubtful.
Even if the Congress suffers heavy defeat, will it mean that the party will find it difficult to recover and reinvent itself?
The Congress has had ups and downs indeed. It has been around 100 seats before and has reinvented itself.
In its post-independence history, the Congress has faced several crises. How different is the one that the party faces now?
The present crisis is different because the party is facing two crises simultaneously—a crisis of leadership, because the scion of a great family is not necessarily made to lead, and a moral crisis, that is not related only to corruption but also to the fact that the party’s identity has become fuzzy: is it business-friendly or people-friendly? For the people or populist? Last but not least, no prime minister had been in office for 10 years in a row since Nehru, when communication was not as important as today. Today, nobody can rule that long and let opponents spread venom without reacting equally forcefully (if not viciously). This is the age of television.
The BJP has been calling for an India that is free of the Congress. If that ever happens, will it be a good thing?
Democracy needs a strong opposition. If the Congress loses the election and then vanishes, it will be a tragedy for democracy—if no political force can resist those in power, especially if institutions like the judiciary and the media lose their independence and if the state parties remain more opportunist than anything else.
Would you agree with the view that the Congress still represents plurality, inclusiveness, liberal ideas and freedom in comparison to many other parties in India?
The Congress grew as a catch-all party. This is the reason of its decline: in the Hindi belt, it cannot get the vote of the Dalits, the Muslims and the Brahmins any more. This is one of the consequences of Mandal and Mandir. But it is still the only party that wins seats in the north and the south, has Muslim and Hindu MPs and so on and so forth.
Does the Congress at present lack ‘big ideas’, and if so, how will you define them?
The ‘big idea’, in fact, is the Congress itself! What is the alternative? A majoritarian and authoritarian form of democracy in which the minorities are invited to be second-class citizens? (And what if they refuse?) Or a third force made of state parties which will not last more than two years? Congress does not need ‘big ideas’ to reinvent itself; it has simply to be true to its creator, Mahatma Gandhi, who shaped the party in 1920. Young Congressmen are prepared to take over on behalf of the country’s motto: ‘unity in diversity’. The party leaders should let them come up!
What a disgraceful interview with Christophe Jaffrelot (‘The Congress itself is the big idea’). Sad to see what Outlook has come to after being a quality publication for so long. (I was one of its first subscribers.) It has clearly sold its soul to the Congress.
Radhanath Varadan, Hanoi, Vietnam
Amusing that the Congress has to rely on outsiders (so-called experts) for support.
Uday Sharma, Bangalore
The Congress can become a big idea (again) if it gets rid of the family. The latter has hijacked the party. Indira Gandhi was quick to get rid of privy purses for all the maharajas but kept it for herself and her family.
Priya Madhavan, Rochester
Jaffrelot is introduced as “an expert on India and the BJP”, but the whole dialogue is about the Congress and its essentiality. Since when did ‘political scientists’ start using phrases like opposition spewing venom and that too when the opposition has brought attention on to huge scams?
Abhijit Kane, Mumbai
What is this edition all about, eulogies for the late, unlamented Congress party?
Cdr Arun Visvanathan, Chennai
Horrible corruption did congress in. It may recover in future if it mends its ways. How will it demonstrate good governance?
One last but not the least question: I never said, “The Congress Itself Is The Big Idea.”
Answer: I know that but my masters concluded it from our interview. I am just doing my job.
Fail, epic fail. Unity in diversity? you, sir, are a french fry
Mr CHRISTOPHE JAFFRELOT
Completely erroneous understanding of India and the time!!
Cohen makes an excellent observation about the snobbery of India's so called intellectual elite vis--a-vis Modi. They cannot accept that a son of a tea seller, with no English literature background, can become the prime minister.
Jaffrelot, incidentally, belongs to a phase of French society and culture, that cannot accept India coming up, and surpassing France in many areas. So they will bring India down in some manner or other. The French have a narcissistic sense of their own importance, and they see India as an upstart third world country. They will thus issue pompous proclamations including judging India on 'press freedom'( reporters without borders) and on secularism. The French, being pompous, cannot walk in India's shoes, and assess how they would do things differently. Yet, France itself is hardly the best model for secularism and tolerance i.e the Romas.
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