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'The top-down management of a party stifles ambitious political leaders'
June 14, 2021

'We must encourage ambitious leaders and not stifle them.'

IMAGE: Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader M K Stalin, now Tamil Nadu's chief minister, fourth from left, with leaders of the DMK's allies for the assembly election at a rally in Salem, March 28, 2021.
On Stalin's left is Rahul Gandhi, the former Congress president. Photograph: ANI Photo

One of the notable outcomes of the recent assemble election was the decimation of the Congress.

Except in Tamil Nadu where the party had an excellent strike rate, winning 18 out of the 25 seats it contested as part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham-led winning alliance.

Where does the Congress go from here?

"People expect leadership at their doorstep and not atop a mountain," Karti Chidambaram, the Congress MP from Sivaganga, tells's Shobha Warrier in the first of a two-part interview:

In the assembly election, the Congress success has been attributed to the DMK by political analysts.
How satisfied are you with the performance of the Congress in Tamil Nadu?

We won 18 out of 25 seats with a strike rate of 72%. This should end this bogey of poor strike rate which is always used as a taunt against us in Tamil Nadu.

Of course, the victory is due to the alliance under the leadership of the DMK.

Every party in the alliance played its part and added value.

The Congress added a secular sheen to the alliance.

That means the Congress is not a mere addition, but a multiplier in an alliance.

With a strike rate of 72%, do you think you would be able to move towards what the Congress was during the Kamaraj period?

That's too premature to say. The victory was not just because of the Congress party; it was due to the alliance and the strength of the alliance we had with the DMK.

We are only a partner in the alliance, yes, the second largest political party in the alliance.

But we contested only in a limited number of seats.

So, it is too premature to say, this is the beginning of the revival of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu.

It is a good performance and it has made us happy.

But there is no doubt in the fact that our organisation needs to be strengthened right from the booth level onwards.

Only then we can think of what we can achieve in future.

Is it the right time to start dreaming about a Kamaraj period?

Not yet. In my opinion, until we have an overall organisational revamp, we cannot think of all that.

Otherwise, it will be an empty slogan without any foundation. Until the foundation is built, we are a long way off.

I will not even use the word, dream. I prefer to say, aspire.

Right now, we are happy that we are in a winning coalition and the principal party in the alliance.

IMAGE: Congress MP Karti Chidambaram, left and his father, former Union finance minister P Chidambaram, right, flank Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin during a courtesy call in Chennai, May 12, 2021. Photograph: @KartiPC/Twitter

The victories of Pinarayi Vijayan, Stalin, Mamata Bannerjee and N Rangaswamy show that only strong state leaders can withstand the popularity of the Narendra Modi-led BJP.
Do you think the Congress suffers from a lack of strong regional leaders except perhaps in Rajasthan and Punjab?

People expect leadership at their doorstep and not atop a mountain. That's why regional leaders do well.

The Congress has strong regional leaders in some states, and we do well there.

In Tamil Nadu, we do not have strong state leaders who can be on par with the Dravidian majors.

What the party needs is, we must encourage ambitious state leaders.

At the same time, I would say, leaders have to emerge within the system and people have to accept the leaders.

Leaders cannot be appointed. We need to have democracy within the party at all levels particularly at the block and the district level.

And the most important thing is, these leaders should be elected and not appointed.

We cannot have these interfering observers who come to oversee local party activities.

The affairs of the party must be run by the local leaders without any interference from above, and these local leaders should be elected by the cadre.

That was the model we followed in the Youth Congress. At least an election process was there.

In the Congress, every appointment was coming from the high command for a long time. Do you think that was one of the reasons for the decline of the party?

The top-down management of a party stifles ambitious political leaders. We must encourage ambitious leaders and not stifle them.

We must welcome competition among ambitious leaders for the top position, and not discourage it.

In fact, it was Rahul Gandhi who mooted elections in the Youth Congress.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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