'All anti-people laws by BJP will be reviewed': Chidambaram

Chidambaram is Congress's manifesto maestro

40-P-Chidambaram P. Chidambaram | J. Suresh

Interview/ P. Chidambaram, Congress leader

P. Chidambaram is the Congress’s manifesto maestro―he has been a part of the drafting committee on several occasions. As the party’s manifesto for the coming Lok Sabha polls was launched, he harked back to the original effort under Jawaharlal Nehru in the first elections held in 1951, noting that the first manifesto was simply and succinctly called ‘What Congress Stands For’.

We promise not to interfere with the personal choices of food and dress, to love and marry, and to travel and reside in any part of India.
We promise to enact a law on bail that will incorporate the principle of bail is the rule, jail is the exception.

In an exclusive interview, Chidambaram talks about the contrast between the Nehruvian era and contemporary politics and the thrust of the party’s manifesto on “reversing the damage done in the last 10 years”. Excerpts:

Q/ What is the main thrust of the Congress manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections?

A/ The main thrust of the manifesto is to reverse the damage done in the past 10 years, especially in the past five years. Reversing the damage spans all sectors of the polity and the economy. It spans the economy, particularly on growth, jobs, inflation. It covers the polity, particularly institutional capture and institutional diminution. It captures the social sector, particularly the denial of the rights which are conferred by the UPA government especially on women, adivasis, Scheduled Castes and the minorities. So, the manifesto takes a panoramic view of India―social, political and economic. And the underlying theme is, so much damage has been done in the last 10 years that it has to be reversed. And we have to put the country on the right track. That’s the overarching goal of the manifesto.

Q/ The Congress has talked about its five guarantees to the people, and the theme of justice is what these guarantees seek to encapsulate. How does the manifesto take this theme of justice forward?

A/ First, there are 10 chapters on justice. The first one is ‘Hissedari Nyay’, which is equity. Second is ‘Yuva Nyay’, which is for the youth. The third is ‘Nari Nyay’, which is about women’s issues. The fourth is ‘Kisaan Nyay’, which deals with the issues of the farmers. And the fifth is ‘Shramik Nyay’, which pertains to what we want to do for the workers. These are the people of India, and broadly dividing them into five groups, we have made specific concrete promises to them, which we call guarantees. Then there are other chapters on political justice, constitutional justice, economic justice, justice between states and Centre. Justice, in the broad sense, is fulfilling the goals of national security and environmental justice. So those are the latter five sections. The first five sections contain the concrete guarantees for equity, youth, women, farmers and workers.

Q/ The Congress has talked about the capture of institutions and the damage done to democracy and Constitutional values. What are your concrete proposals on this front?

A/ The first thing is, we promise freedom from fear. The promise of freedom, if it is accompanied by fear, is an empty promise. Part three of the Constitution guarantees freedoms to every citizen, freedom of speech and expression, freedom to assembly, freedom to form associations, freedom to work, freedom to live in any part of the country. But if that freedom is accompanied by a constant fear, if fear is the companion of freedom, there is no freedom. Therefore, first and foremost, we promise you freedom from fear. We have several promises in that chapter. For example, we promise to review all laws that interfere with the right to privacy. We promise not to interfere with the personal choices of food and dress, to love and marry, and to travel and reside in any part of India. We promise that the two houses of Parliament will each meet for 100 days in a year. We promise that one day in a week will be devoted to discuss the agenda suggested by the opposition benches like in the UK. We promise that the presiding officers of the two houses will be required to sever their connection with any political party and remain neutral.

We promise to restore the voters’ trust in the election process. While we will keep the EVM, we have promised that voting will be through the EVM but the voter will be able to hold the ballot paper as a digital ballot paper and deposit in the VVPAT unit. It is automatically transferred now; we will take it and put it there. We promise to strengthen the autonomy of the Election Commission, the Central Information Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General, which have all been diminished. We promise that the Tenth Schedule will be amended, just one provision―if a person leaves his party, for whatever reason, he is instantly disqualified. We promise to restore the Planning Commission. We promise that all investigating agencies and intelligence agencies will be brought under the oversight of Parliament. We promise to enact a law on bail that will incorporate the principle of bail is the rule, jail is the exception. So we have made concrete promises.

Q/ Will the Congress amend the Prevention of Money Laundering Act which has stringent bail conditions?

A/ Initially, we had made a long list of laws that will either be outright repealed or repealed and reenacted or amended. But that list became too long. In order to compress that, what we have said is that we promise that all anti-people laws passed by the BJP-NDA without proper parliamentary scrutiny and debate, especially those relating to workers, the labour codes, the farmers, the three farm laws, criminal justice, which is essentially PMLA, environment and forests, which is the Environment Act and digital data, which is the Telecommunication Act amendment, will be thoroughly reviewed and changed.

Q/ With regard to social justice, you’ve spoken about caste census in the manifesto. Does this not mark a big shift in the Congress’s stance on caste census?

A/ There is no shift at all. Once you concede that reservation is necessary, once reservation is entrenched in our policymaking and lawmaking, you cannot proceed on the basis of guesstimates. If the census is conducted, we will have a fair picture of what India is in 2024. The last census was in 2011, thirteen years ago. Tremendous changes have come across in India. Therefore, a socio-economic census, which will include naturally a caste census, is absolutely necessary as long as reservation is part of our policymaking.

Q/ What is the significance of the word guarantee, and this election is well turning into a battle of guarantees?

A/ Modi has depreciated the word guarantee. He guaranteed two crore jobs a year. He guaranteed Rs15 lakh in the account of every Indian. He guaranteed to double farmers’ income. He guaranteed that prices of petrol and diesel will be brought down to Rs45 and Rs40. He guaranteed that India will become a $5 trillion economy. He has depreciated the use of the word guarantee. We want to put content and meaning into the word guarantee. We used that phrase in Karnataka, Telangana and Himachal Pradesh. And apparently it resonated with the people. The word guarantee given by the Congress Party resonated with the people and that is why we are using the word guarantee.

Q/ The Congress has come out with its manifesto. Would there also be a common agenda of the INDIA alliance?

A/ I cannot answer that question because I am not a part of the team that meets with other parties in the INDIA alliance, but I am told there is an effort made or will be made to cull out common points and agree on a common agenda.

Q/ You have spoken about the first Congress manifesto and the faith that the people had in Prime Minister Nehru.

A/ People had such absolute faith in Nehru that if he said something, they accepted it as virtual gospel truth. Nehru’s manifesto were his words, his speeches. There was no contestation to Nehru, except some pockets here and there like the CPI or the RSS. This is an era of contestation, national party versus national party, national party versus regional party, regional party versus regional party. It’s the credibility attached to what the leader says.

Therefore, we have to formulate it carefully, so that the leader does not misspeak. The leader speaks what is doable, what has been done, what will be done and people will assess it. People no longer have unquestioning faith in any promise. They have critical faith in every promise. They will see your promise and critically analyse it. Some people have faith, some people don’t have faith. The difference between unquestioning faith in Nehru and the critical faith in the current leaders across all parties makes this contest more interesting.