Congress president Sonia Gandhi Thursday appointed Abhishek Singhvi, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesman, as a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, along with a few other names. In an interview with The Indian Express, Singhvi spoke on a range of burning issues. Excerpts:
How do you see your elevation as a CWC member?
Undoubtedly, it is a matter of great honour, privilege and pleasure. Personally, I see this apex decision-making body of the Congress as representing firstly, geographical diversity, secondly, community diversity, and thirdly, a kind of a brains trust or an in-house think tank. The third element needs to be reinforced and reinvigorated.
On the Presidential election, there is a sense that the Opposition lacked imagination. And the Congress, the main Opposition party, simply sat back and let the other parties come up with names and agreed on the name on which there was wider acceptance. Why?
I don’t quite agree with this formulation for the reason that firstly, the paramount consideration has to be consensus. There cannot be “ekla chalo” model on the President’s selection. Secondly, Gopal Krishna Gandhi was our choice more than five years ago and was again a front-runner this time. One cannot be blamed if for a variety of reasons he declined gracefully. Yashwant Sinha is a powerful name with rich experience and represents a thinking process about whatever is wrong with the BJP. I do not mean the slightest disrespect to the NDA candidate and she has every right to vigorously campaign and claim the Presidency but that should not detract from the continuous efforts of every segment of the Opposition for the last several days to provide a very respectable ideological opponent.
On the ED’s questioning of Rahul Gandhi, the Congress has been attacking the government accusing it of misusing the agency. The party has called the ED’s summoning “illegal”. Then why hasn’t the party approached the court or taken a legal recourse?
It’s completely wrong to suggest that “confinement by questioning” or “detention through questioning” for 55 hours over 5 days can be attacked only by going to court. The whole point is that there’s nothing to go to court about. Interminable questioning was intended for harassment, heaping insults and political objectives. Certainly Rahul Gandhi could have sought anticipatory bail but we had resolutely decided not to do so because he was confident in standing up to such intimidation. How can the ED first act perversely and unreasonably and then put the ball in our court saying we should seek legal redress for their unreasonable behaviour.
Will Congress president Sonia Gandhi appear for the ED’s questioning whenever she is medically fit?
I can personally tell you that when the summons for questioning first came to Sonia Gandhi, it was difficult to restrain her from going even with Covid at the initial stage. She has been raring to go and will go immediately when medical advice permits. However, elementary medical knowledge tells us that exposure to collateral infection must be avoided, especially at her age, and that is the simple reason why time has been sought.
How do you see the Maharashtra crisis from a legal point of view?
First, let me briefly address the political part. No doubt this is a storm which should have been partly combated preventively. But one must never brush aside the humongous immoral conduct of the BJP. Luxury buses, 3 or 4 jets, trans-Indian coverage from Surat to Guwahati and over 70 rooms in luxury hotels and resorts do not come cheap. All escorts were provided by BJP leaders visible on camera and all protection by police of BJP-ruled states. Now we know how 90% of the money from electoral bonds which admittedly and officially goes to the ruling party is utilised. They are the last persons who have any right to preach or moralise or feign ignorance.
Turning now to the legal, the options are limited because all of them, first and foremost, depend on the numbers. However, firstly any Chief Minister can recommend dissolution (of the Assembly) subject to the caveat that a Governor is not obliged to accept that recommendation if there is sufficient material to show that the recommendation is based upon a minority support. Secondly, the Governor is within his or her rights to order a floor test if some group so claims and the Governor on demonstrable material finds that the incumbent does not have numbers. Thirdly, the anti-defection law clearly kicks in but is unfortunately time-consuming. Thus, while in a properly constituted complaint with sufficient natural justice for hearing, the Speaker or Deputy Speaker would be fully entitled to disqualify those who have jumped ship, that may practically be of no use given the time lag involved. Fourthly, Indian genius has found enough ways of circumventing the anti-defection law by resigning, creating artificial deductions in the total pool of voting and then after toppling the government by such illegal shenanigans getting re-appointed as ministers with a six month window left for the election. Fifthly, if by any last minute retrieval, Uddhav Thackeray gets the numbers, he himself is entitled to call for a vote of confidence. Unfortunately, in all of this the Congress remains an outsider but a self-professed clear strong supporter (of Thackeray).
Yesterday, Thackeray reportedly said Shiv Sena has not given up on Hindutva. The Congress has taken a very strong position against Hindutva and often attacked the BJP over it. How do you reconcile…?
On the contrary, I believe the Aghadi (MVA coalition) has had a highly desirable convergence of views to the center point of reasonableness of the Hindu religion. Aghadi is absolutely right in saying that this is the brand of Hinduism which is true Hinduism and not the distorted, politically expedient and hyperventilating, breast-beating of the BJP. In that sense a lot of aberrations and distortions have been ironed out to the golden mean which Aghadi has adopted.
The Congress’s internal election process is underway. Will the election take place as scheduled and will Rahul Gandhi return as Congress president?
Undoubtedly, the elections will happen on time. And undoubtedly everyone is free to stand. And we must all respectfully await the results. Naysayers and doomsdayers will keep on creating negative scenarios because it does not suit their script. There is a wait of hardly a few months and we must therefore all await the eating-of-the-pudding before sermonising.
You are also the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home. The committee is travelling to the Northeast. What is on its agenda?
I’m equally privileged to be the Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home not only because it’s an extremely important committee but because its remit covers the wide vistas from the Northeast to issues of national security to a huge swathe of paramilitary forces and to the vital themes of Center-state relations and federalism. On these issues, we have already started discussions on infiltration and security and border security in the Northeast. We have already examined the CRPF and ITBP. Indeed, the trip to the Northeast was already finalised and about to take off from 25th to 30th but was postponed because of the terrible floods and landslides and logical difficulties.
Lastly, Kapil Sibal, one of the key G-23 leaders, has left the Congress and some of the leaders of the group have been placated with positions. How do you see the development and the activities of the dissident or reformist group?
As Mr Sibal has rightly refused to comment on the Congress, the latter should equally rightly reciprocate. As far as your larger question on G-23 is concerned, I believe that the primary justification of such a grouping can only be suggestions for reform, which were intensively discussed and openly thrashed for over three days at the Udaipur Shivir. With (internal) elections round the corner, I think every legitimate demand of this G-23 has either been met or about to be met.