India saw its best periods of economic growth under coalition govts: Tharoor

A man not new to controversies, Tharoor has received both bouquets and brickbats for his nonchalant and friendly banter, especially on social media.

India saw its best periods of economic growth under coalition govts: Tharoor

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Congress leader Shashi Tharoor is among the most popular faces of the party. The former United Nations Under-Secretary General had also served as the Minister of State for External Affairs under the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh. A man not new to controversies, Tharoor has received both bouquets and brickbats for his nonchalant and friendly banter, especially on social media. Surya S Pillai of The Statesman caught up with the Thiruvananthapuram MP as he interacted with voters along the length and breadth of the country. He talked about the mood of the voters, role of media in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the north versus south divide, and the benefits of a coalition government.

Q. You are travelling extensively convincing voters to choose INDIA bloc over the BJP. What is the mood of voters?

A. The mood is very encouraging for us. I am not suggesting a sweep for us, but there is every possibility of a better result than the NDA can aim for. The voters today are talking about their well being more than anything else. For example, everybody is mentioning unemployment. In our country today, 45 per cent unemployment is prevalent among the 19 to 25 years age bracket. The other is inflation; the BJP can say that India’s inflation is not high as per global standards, but by Indian standards, we are in troubled waters. You can imagine the condition of the country if people are unable to afford something as basic as food. Thirdly, income levels have gone down. Forget about doubling farmers’ income, there is not even a 10 per cent increase in their incomes. Reports have shown 80 per cent of the Indian population has seen a decline in their incomes in the last 10 years.


Q. The Opposition-backed INDIA bloc has often termed the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as the fight between ideologies. It has talked about how this election is all about saving the Constitution and democratic ethos. Do you think this message has percolated to the masses?

A. Among the educated class, there are some real concerns about democracy, the Constitution, weaponising of agencies, or the BJP ‘washing machine’ for the corrupt. I think it is also present at the macro level. At the bottom or retail level of politics, unemployment, price rise and inflation are the talking points. So both are parallel concerns without contradicting each other.

Q. Delhi is voting on May 25 where the Congress is in alliance with the beleaguered AAP. Many Congress workers have voiced their angst against this tie-up.Your comments.

A. The problem with not wanting an alliance is that in two successive elections, the BJP has swept. So we cannot afford to give them a third chance by dividing the opposition votes, which is why the logic of an alliance makes perfect sense. All I can say is that it is better for us to put our votes together than put them apart. In the last Lok Sabha election, we did better than the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). We got 22 per cent vote share in Delhi and the AAP got 18 per cent. We felt many people wanted us to come to power in the national capital. Cut to 2024, we have good candidates on our side, and the AAP has a considerable hold on some quarters.

Q. You have advocated for a coalition government and how it is bereft of autocracy. Will you also address the perils associated with this kind of governance like indecisiveness or clash of opinions?

A. There is a need for collegiality and cooperation. In fact, studies have shown how the best periods of economic growth in our country have been under coalition governments. Look at India from 1991 to 2001, those were not majority governments. At the moment, we are seeing the opposite problem – the problem of an electoral autocracy. You have elected a leader, but he is conducting himself autocratically. We are not in a presidential system. We are a parliamentary democracy where the prime minister is primus inter pares or the first among equals.

Q. INDIA bloc is accused of creating the north-south divide when it talked about the devolution of tax money and how south states are not effectively benefited as compared to their northern counterparts.

A. Devolution of tax money is objective numbers, it is not imaginary. We are talking about the dwindling tax revenue coming to states by the Centre. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has increasingly resorted to cesses. Cesses are not divided and shared with states, and only go to the Union government. The net result is the states are affected. Whether it is a north-south divide, you hear similar complaints from Maharashtra. But the larger question is a political one. Politics of the north and politics of the south are incompatible. Case in point is the demonization of minorities in the north, whereas, in the south, all communities live together happily. There are major differences but there need not be a divide.

Q. Political strategist Prashant Kishor recently said if the BJP failed to get 370 seats, the stock market will turn red.What do you say about that?

A. This is plain scaremongering. As far as the stock market is concerned, similar worries were expressed in the past. When the Deve Gowda government came in 1996, the stock market plunged, but within a short while, then finance minister P Chidambaram presented the ‘dream budget’ and everything shot up again. Ultimately, the stock market is governed by sentiment which keeps fluctuating. It is silly to say vote for the BJP if you want to save the stock market. Tomorrow, when we will have a successful and responsible government, we will automatically see good results. So investors need not worry, they should not be moved by temporary sentiments.

Q. The Congress campaigning, especially on social media, has really picked up, and is garnering a good response.

A. We are giving the BJP as good as they have given us in the past. We have become more vigorous, witty and innovative with our social media messages. As you all know I was not very popular in my party for using the virtual platform earlier as they believed it was undignified. But the Congress is waking up and using the platform extremely well. Where the BJP is scoring above us now is the mainstream media. Those are the ones who are more vulnerable to government pressure. So this has given the saffron party an advantage in public perception. But the opposition is being able to hold its own in the digital space.

Q. You have maintained that the BJP’s ”Abki baar, 400 paar” slogan is a distant dream. What are the chances of the saffron party in the south?

A. In the south, the BJP will not get a single seat in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They might get a handful of seats in Telangana. In Andhra, they are relying heavily on (TDP chief) Chandrababu Naidu. In Karnataka, they will do worse than the last time. On the whole, it will be a net loss for the BJP in the southern belt.

Q. What is your message for the voters this election?

A. Vote in your self interest. Do not be swayed by propaganda. All this ‘400 paar’ should not be taken seriously. There is nothing inevitable about a BJP win, and it is certainly not invincible. Vote for what you believe is good for you and the country. Vote for a government that believes in an inclusive India.