Differences in non-BJP camp family quarrel; enough time for Mamata to change mind: Margaret Alva

The Opposition’s vice presidential candidate Margaret Alva Saturday described the prevailing situation in the non-BJP camp as a “family quarrel”, but asserted they are clear they don’t want a one-party rule and were working to “sink the differences” and unite for the 2024 challenge.

The 80-year-old Alva, who faces an uphill task in the August 6 vice presidential poll, also said the Opposition was clear in its intention that the Constitution has to be defended and democratic institutions protected.

In an interview to PTI, the former governor said, “The tragedy of today’s democratic system is that the mandate of people does not prevail and muscle and money power, and threats change the composition of the elected framework.” On frequent disruptions seen in Parliament, the multi-term parliamentarian said these interruptions were happening because the Chair was “unable to work out compromises” and consider the Opposition’s viewpoint.

“How can a democracy function with the government slogan seemingly being ‘my way or no way’.” Alva has been fielded by the Opposition for the vice presidential poll contest against the ruling NDA’s Jagdeep Dhankhar, but the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has announced it will abstain from the election. Alva admitted she was “aghast at the announcement” the TMC would abstain.

“Mamata has been leading the entire movement to unite the opposition,” Alva said. “She has been my friend for many years and I believe that there is enough time for her to change her mind.” On Saturday, Alva met Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal to seek his support for her vice presidential bid.

On dynastic politics, which has been frequently been deprecated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a threat to democracy, Alva said there is nothing wrong in children of politicians coming in. “But they have to win elections and the confidence of people and be accepted.” Alva, a former Congress general secretary, had questioned the denial of a party ticket to her son in the 2008 Karnataka elections when wards of leaders in other states had been accommodated.

On her rival Dhankhar’s tenure as West Bengal governor, she said there is a ‘Lakshman Rekha’ a Raj Bhawan occupant needs to respect. “It is unethical and unconstitutional to function as a party representative when holding the constitutional office.”

Downplaying the apparent cracks in the Opposition betrayed by the cross-voting in the presidential poll on July 18, Alva said, “Opposition parties are making efforts to sink their differences and work together before the general elections. I think they feel the need and the urgency of finding a common platform to face the challenge of 2024. There might be ups and downs, differences but the intention is clear, they are concerned and they want to make a point. The Constitution has to be defended and democratic institutions have to be protected. We do not want a one-party rule.” The veteran Congress leader, who has spent nearly 50 years in politics, said the differences in the Opposition bloc were “like a family quarrel” which would be resolved.

“We will sit and sort it out,” she said, adding “She (Mamata) is very much part of us and her basic ideology is that of the Congress. I always consider her one of us. I believe we can sit and sort out any differences that have arisen. She has been fighting the BJP all along. There is no way she can help the BJP win.” The Congress veteran, who has served as governor of Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand, also favoured consensus on the posts of president and vice president, saying the government should take the initiative and engage various parties and forge a common ground.

On the status of democracy in the country, she said “it is not the mandate of the people that prevails” these days.

“In various states, the mandate of the people is ignored and muscle power, money power and threats change the composition of the elected framework,” Alva said, citing the examples of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.

She added, “Today, it is frightening when I look around. It’s a different world altogether. You cannot eat what you want, you cannot wear what you want, you cannot say what you want, you cannot even meet people what you want. What is this time?” She said parliamentary disruptions are unfortunate.

“The point is why are there disruptions?” she asked. “It is because the Chair is unable to work out compromises and work out a way by which the point of view of the opposition and their demands for discussion and debate can be worked into the agenda of the house.” “You can’t just pass 22 bills in 12 minutes, without debate, without discussion, the opposition candidate said. “How can a democracy function like this? The government’s slogan seems to be either my way or no way. You don’t allow a discussion and you don’t want to hear a point of view which is different from yours. It is the people suffering outside — common people, the voter, the taxpayer.”

Noting that she has been a governor and a lawyer — her vice presidential poll rival Dhankhar has also served as governor and lawyer — she said, “He (Dhankhar) has been fighting a woman in the state (West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee) and now he is fighting another woman in the election. Something in his stars…” Alva said Dhankhar is “being rewarded” for the hard political stance he took as West Bengal governor.

“I have also been a governor and you are supposed to be non-partisan. You are supposed to help your government function. There is a Lakshman Rekha, which you have to keep in mind once you are in the Raj Bhawan. You can’t sit there and function as the representative of your party. I think it is unethical and unconstitutional.” Speaking about her own journey, Alva said Indira Gandhi was her political mentor.

“Indira ji handpicked me for Parliament, but my in-laws helped me grow.” The numbers in the electoral college are heavily against Alva, but she said in democracy it was important to accept the challenge, notwithstanding the considerations of victory or loss. “Because the numbers are stacked against us, should we not fight the election?” “I think in a democratic system, win or loss, you have to accept the challenge and place your point of view before your MPs who are now the electoral college. We have a different point of view from the government and the need is for those who are on a common platform to accept the challenge,” Alva said.

The veteran leader also pointed to her struggles saying she has come up the ladder of politics — from block level to being MP, minister and governor – all by the virtue of “hard work, commitment and clean politics”.

“This is another chapter,” said Alva, who had returned to Bengaluru to settle, but returned when called upon by the Opposition to fight the August 6 election.

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