New Delhi: With 40 out of 79 young Members of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha, the Congress Party has done well in promoting the new generation of politicians. While most are there due to lineage, some have made it due to their grit and determination.
Thirty-four-year-old Ashok Tanwar, with a no-nonsense approach towards the profession he has chosen, is fast emerging as a leader of repute. Tanwar was hand-picked by All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi to contest last year's Lok Sabha elections' from Sirsa in Haryana.
Having done his mentor proud, Tanwar says, "Rahul's way of functioning is superb. He gives us a lot of freedom to work and one gets to learn so much from him. This definitely helped me in getting elected to the Parliament."
Tanwar is one of the first signs of change in the practice of politics in India. At his well-appointed MP accommodation in North Avenue, he is quick on the uptake when a couple of people from Gujarat come visiting him.
"He is the future chief minister of Haryana and will prove as good as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi," one of them remarked..
Tanwar was direct. Without wincing he retorted, "Why are you praising Modi?"
The first-time MP speaks to Gulf News, in an exclusive interview.
GULF NEWS: In what way has your life changed after entering politics?
ASHOK TANWAR: Life has changed totally. I realise now that on entering politics, a politician has no personal life left. It becomes entirely people-centric. You have to work hard and be aware of development works. From how to behave in public to interacting with people and how they wish to see you — every aspect one has to be careful about, including one's behaviour. It's all very good for personality development. If I had not been in politics, though my basic character would have been the same, my overall personality would have been different.
Was politics your first choice as a profession?
I came to politics accidentally or I could say incidentally. I was good at academics and was keen on the civil services. But my interest in student and political activism and keenness for the National Students Union of India (NSUI), made me enter politics.
While campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, which incidents touched you the most?
When you connect with the masses you understand a lot of real problems they go through. And it was during my campaigns that I became aware about the challenges I was going to face ahead.
It's like showing the mirror to your own self. For any political person it is important to contest elections, because these make you more responsible and accountable.
In most villages elderly women would ask for a BPL [below poverty line] card to avail of the benefits. Some spoke about the schemes not reaching the masses and how manipulations were done at the local level. It was a very humbling and learning experience.
After becoming an MP do you find the going tough and difficult to live up to the promises made?
Expectations of people who elected you are very high. So keeping your promises and delivering is the biggest task.
And because my constituency is agricultural based, the issues are slightly different. We can provide maximum help to the farmers and the trading community in terms of food grains and agricultural products. We have also tried to bring in big projects to the constituency and about Rs120 billion (Dh9.9 billion) worth of investment is being made. The projects include the long-pending demand of the people for railway connectivity. Also, a 2,800 megawatt nuclear power plant is coming up. The only one in northern India, this plant will make the state self sufficient in terms of power generation and will indirectly create a sub-city environment.
What should the youth know about Indian politics?
They should believe in the democratic strength and that everyone irrespective of the caste and creed has a chance to rise in politics. From people of rural background and weaker sections to the highly educated — whoever works hard and works for the masses, is liable to grow in politics. Now, Rahul Gandhi has initiated the process of internal democracy in the organisation and is seeing to it that the grassroots people from different castes and professional backgrounds are empowered. This means their future is in safe hands.
Aspiring politicians hear that political parties want educated youth to enter politics. But when it comes to giving tickets, why do family background, caste and other factors come to the fore?
It's all true. But once the leadership is clear and the party is confident that the young aspiring politician can deliver, than all these issues do not matter. There definitely are hurdles, but leaders do promote youngsters from non-political backgrounds.
Getting them associated is one thing but giving them their due according to their merit is another. Don't you think a person could feel disillusioned?
It's not only in politics, these problems occur in other fields, including academics, as well. The problem is with the system, which needs to be set right. But until then, a person needs to realise the hurdles he or she has to cross to achieve the aims.
Haven't you also benefited because of quota for the Dalits?
Quota had no role to play in my case. It's a reserved seat, yes, but terming my achievements to caste factor is not justified. I headed two prestigious organisations — the National Student Union of India and the Youth Congress, before becoming an MP. And I have made history by being President of the Youth Congress for a record many years.
Do you think Mayawati politics that survives purely on caste has a future in politics?
I don't think caste politics has a future in the country. There have been times when religion, language or other such factors have played an important role. But with the time, these sentiments fade away and ultimately only those political parties, who have no biases, will survive in the long run.
In that case what will veteran leaders like Lalu Prasad do?
To survive, they will have to be part of the mainstream thinking process. With the passage of time changes are inevitable.
Of late, Haryana has been making news because of honour killings and khap panchayats. How do you view this issue?
The government is coming up with some proposals to help the young couples wanting to have inter-caste marriages, but no one has the right to kill. Issues have to be settled by talks.
There are few things that are traditional to the society and we have to take care of the sentiments of the people, but at the same time taking law into our own hands is not the solution.
The Haryana government is now trying to help out young couples by providing them security. In many cases, relatives are anxious and aggressive initially, but after sometime they reconcile to the situation.
Profile: Dr Ashok Tanwar
- Dr Ashok Tanwar was born on February 12, 1976 to mother Krishna Rathi and father Dilbag Singh in Jhajjar, Haryana.
- Studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and completed his M. A., M. Phil and Ph. D.
- Became secretary of the Delhi University Students' Union (NSUI) - 1999.
- President NSUI - 2003.
- Youngest person to become President of the Indian Youth Congress (2005 - 2010).
- He is married to Avantika Maken, daughter of slain Congress leader Lalit Maken and maternal grand daughter of former Indian President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma.
- Elected to the 15th Lok Sabha on Congress ticket from Sirsa, Haryana - 2009.
- Member, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development - 2009.
- Member, Consultative Committee, Ministry of Environment and Forest - 2009.
- Member, Joint Parliamentary Committee on office of Profit and Convenor, Parliamentary Forum on Youth - 2010.