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The Congress leadership returns to its workspace with fresh ideas and Nav Sankalp Shivir (New Resolution Conclave) at Udaipur. The party which is about to elect a new President would have a ready-made prescription to set course for the ship from its present state of drift. Yet efficacy and pronouncements can best work when the plans are rolled out.
It was a year short of a decade when the Indian National Congress' select leadership assembled to take stock of the direction the organisation is headed and adopted a strategy for the course correction of the Grand Old Party.
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The mid-May ‘Nav Sankalp Shivir’ at the lake city of Udaipur was a serious effort by the GOP after the 2013 deliberative session at Jaipur, where Rahul Gandhi was elevated as the party’s Vice President.
The post-Jaipur phase resulted in the Congress hitting its lowest point in electoral politics, and on his part, Rahul Gandhi went on to assume the party Chief post, only to walk away a couple of years later.
Since then, there is an unmistakable opaqueness in the manner the Congress is being led. Yes, Sonia Gandhi remains the interim party president, a responsibility she took after her son threw in the towel post-2019 Lok Sabha elections debacle.
The party is in the midst of organisational elections which should by this autumn elect a new president. The guessing game continues amid a strong sense both within and outside the party that the position will once again go to Rahul Gandhi.
Indications of the shape of things to come could be gauged from the list of speakers at the concluding session of the Udaipur conclave. Rahul Gandhi got top billing and in his candid address to the assembly redrew contours of his vision for the organisation.
Now the party should find itself sufficiently rejuvenated as the leadership of some 500 delegates brainstormed over the state of affairs in the country, the political landscape and chalked out a strategy to restore the party to its primacy in national politics.
Rahul Gandhi’s remark that only Congress can lead the political battle against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), can be a throwback to the 1998 Pachmarhi conclave where it characterised the coalition arrangements as a transitory phase in politics. Five years later at Shimla, the Congress revisited the argument and accepted coalitions as the way to move ahead.
The Pachmarhi conclave was the first such session under the presidency of Sonia Gandhi and the party came out of its bitter experience of supporting the 1996-98 United Front Government. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was in office and the coalition era, which the party rejected, lasted for two decades. In a way, it is still in place with the BJP accommodating allies at the Centre.
Now, Rahul Gandhi’s observation led to a chorus of protests from allies who contested the argument that the regional outfits do not have the ideological bandwidth to stand up to the humongous political and electoral challenge that exists in the form of the BJP.
Yet, the party did not foreclose options as it will seek to have a dialogue with all like-minded parties and consider alliances as the political situation warrants.
The step can be construed as pragmatic for the Congress is in alliance in several states like Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu.
By its pronouncements at Udaipur, the leadership and its documents set a course for the organisation that should spell out ideological clarity when there were indications the party was trudging on a 'soft-Hindutva' path and repositioning itself in the backdrop of the changing landscape.
Among the sweeping changes the party promised is reserving half of the tickets in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections for those under 50 years of age with a one-ticket per family limit and a three-year cooling-off period for office-bearers.
This is a stark acceptance of the reality that over fifty percent of the country’s population is below 50 years of age. It was time to effect generational change while accommodating the seniors in a new advisory role.
The idea to draft experienced seniors for party work in a different capacity is probably a reworked plan suggested by then influential Congress leader K Kamraj. In the 1960s, the seniors were to be drafted for party work under the program. It never really took off, just as Rahul Gandhi’s idea in the mid-2000s of entrusting youth with more significant work in the organisation.
Another significant decision announced by Sonia Gandhi was that party members would embark on a ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra' (Unite India March) from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The walkathon is aimed at bringing together people of different communities as the party feels that the governing BJP is pursuing a policy that runs contrary to the country's all-inclusive ideals.
In addition, by reaching out to the people, the party hopes to reconnect to the masses, which appears to be on the wane at present.
One of the first major political padayatras on a national scale was undertaken by socialist leader Chandra Shekhar in 1983, which lasted for little less than six months. The idea was to directly get a sense from the people of the daily trials and tribulations and identify the problems to provide succour.
Independent of Bharat Jodo Yatra, the party would continue with its district-level Jan Jagran Abhiyan (Public Awakening Campaign) from mid-June to underscore the economic issues.
The party’s decision to undertake a slew of organisational reorientations - including setting up a political affairs panel in every state to advice the party president, a public insight department to collect feedback from people, and a national training school to groom workers and leaders - should shake up the lethargy and install institutional arrangement for the future.
For all the grand talk at Udaipur, a frank exchange of ideas and prescriptions can be efficacious only when these plans are pulled off the drawing board and run on the ground. After all, the success of such plans can only be tested in the field.
— KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
Read his other columns here
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)
First Published: May 18, 2022 9:56 AM IST