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Mainstream, VOL LX No 22, New Delhi, May 21, 2022

Impact of the Rahul factor at the Chintan Shivir | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 21 May 2022


by Arun Srivastava

For Rahul Gandhi, the Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir at Gwalior was a big success. While it provided the right forum to establish his leadership in the backdrop of his severe criticism by the senior party leaders, no one questioned his failure to lead the party from the front or why he failed to rejuvenate the party at grass root level. Though some of the senior leaders praised the outcome of the shivir they also observed that it would enthuse the party to face the future challenges.

Rahul in his speech emphasised on adhering to the ideology of the party. But it was not clear which ideology he was referring to. Congress has been a centrist party believing in the liberal and democrat values. Certainly this could not be bracketed as ideology as the BJP or for that matter left parties possess. From its very inception it has been the conglomerate of different ideas and cultural ethics. Had it been a party based on the foundation of some ideology, then the party must not have witnessed large scale migration of its leaders and cadres to the BJP; members of a secular liberal party migrating to a rightist party.

The Chintan shivir is not the panacea of the malaise that inflicts the Congress. Quite interesting Congress under Sonia Gandhi has been regularly holding such shivirs. But the shivirs have failed to rejuvenate and revitalise the organisation and provide a new direction. On the contrary the party has been consistently drowning in the quagmire of lack of political will and ideological disillusionment. It is noticed that the internal bicker raises its ugly head after these shivirs.

The shivir being held in the backdrop of massive erosion of its mass base and the cadres and leaders at the grass root level showing complete averseness towards the party, was expected to come out with clear programme and policy. Except the rhetoric that the party would identify itself with the aspiration of the poor, no other tangible decisions were announced. Though even after being the party of national bourgeoise, the Congress has always identified itself with the poor.

The party has rightly adopted one family one ticket policy, but the emphasis on the wide-ranging reforms in the party organisation to make it battle-ready for the next round of assembly and Lok Sabha polls is a hoax. The Gandhi family would in all probability would be the victim of this policy. Does it indicates that Sonia Gandhi would not contest elections in future. Nevertheless the rule also has an element of exception. The party may not enforce the rule in case of the leaders whose another family member has been working in the party for at least five years.

On the concluding day Rahul Gandhi lamented that the Congress’ connection with people has ’broken’ and it has to be need to re-established. But he did not spell out the reasons for breaking down of the connection and what mechanism should be adopted to re-establish it. Claiming to be the leader of the party he should have clarified these two points at the shivir as it would have furnished the necessary inpiut to the participants to think over. His rhetoric that our fight is for ideology is misleading. If at all ideology was at stake, he ought to have not behaved in such an erratic manner. He has formed the habit of issuing tweets instead of reaching out directly to the people. In a late realisation he nevertheless said “ we have to go to the people and sit with them”. It is good finally he has come to realise this bare fact.

Acknowledging that the Congress’ connection with people has been broken, Rahul Gandhi urged party leaders to shift their focus from internal matters to re-establishing the connect through concerted outreach efforts. Since he is in politics for quite some time and is supposed to the public face of the party, he must be knowing when and under what circumstances the cadres and leaders focus on internal matters ignoring the political task.

While emphasising that his observation was not a complain he said “Our entire discussion, all talks are about our internal matters...who is getting which post. Our focus is internal. In today’s time this internal focus will not work, our focus should be external". It is good that this nice idea has dawned him, of course belated, “be it our senior leaders, junior leaders or workers, we should go and sit with the people”. He has been primarily responsible for alienating the vast mass of the cadres and senior leaders by resigning from the presidentship of the party. At that time he had accused the seniors of not working in the right manner. It is a known fact that seasoned leaders at the village and district level thoroughly understand the problems of the people. He did not use this human resources for establishing and strengtheing the connect the party used to have with the people.

Hailing the party’s steps for the youth, Gandhi said, I” think the idea that a certain number of positions should be for young people is an important idea. I am not saying there should be no older people. I am saying that when it comes to District Congress Committees, Block Congress Committees, and the leadership, we should have a healthy mix of youngsters and seniors. And I think the time has come that where we aggressively do this." Who prevented the Congress leadership from resorting to this policy. As the president of the party he should have initiated this policy.

Gone are the days when the Congress used to be a platform where people can hold deliberations without any fear or worry. If it had been the case, the emergence of group of 23 might not have taken place. This is a sad commentary on the functioning of the Congress, even the senior leaders are not mustering courage to speak the truth and come out with the suggestion. It is the word of the Gandhi family that is final verdict. Sonia Gandhi must change this. By reiterating all such rhetoric Rahul cannot absolve himef of the responsibility. He ought to do some introspection and come out with the reply. He must face the cadres and local leaders.

Asserting that India is a Union of States, Gandhi said it is critical for the union in this country that the states and the people are allowed to have a conversation, because the only alternative to a conversation between the people of India is violence between the people of India . Does he indulges in conversation with his own cadres and leaders? If he has encouraged conversation then the Congress may not be in the situation in which it is today. This is in a state of disarray. Rahul is absolutely right that great leaders Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, (Vallabhbhai) Patel, (Abul Kalam) Azad Ji, (B R) Ambedkar Ji have had encouraged conversation. But the fct is the present Congress leadership is averse to it.

If he has been really interested in entering into conversation, he should not have resigned from the post of party chief in the manner he did. May be he should be excused for his act. But still the question remains why he did not pursue the politics of conversation in later years. What prevented him. The simple answer, according to me is his ego. He simply converses and listens to his coterie. "The instruments of this conversation, the mechanism of this conversation are the institutions that the Congress party, that your great leaders

The party ought to signal a pro-poor welfare shift, but it has to be cautious of the malignant attack from the urban middle class. They have been primary responsible for creating public opinion. They survive on skewed and false notions. For them serving their class interest is supreme. They have been primarily responsible for bringing Narendra Modi to the office of he prime minister. Rahul must rewind the past events. It ws his statement that scared the middle class and conjured them to take to Congress bashing line. They supported the political line propounded by L K Advani. Incidentally Modi grabbed the situation and projected himsf as the saviour of the country with the tacit support of the middle class.

Since the poor are not the decision makers. They also have no mechanism or political clout to change the soico economic paradign of the country, they borrow and rely on the misinformation spread by the middkle class. They shifted to BJP andModi carried away by the rumour mongering of the middle class. Rahul’s thrust at that time on the welfare of the poor had scared this section. They viewed his observation as Congress’s changed policy in which they have no place. They perceived his statement as end of the golden era that Manmohan sing had brought in curing hid rule.

The Congress on Saturday declared an intent to reset its economic policies, signalling a pro-poor welfare shift whose contours will be known after the completion of the ongoing Chintan Shivir here. Former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who heads the party’s committee on economy, clarified that “reset” did not mean “stepping back” from “the policies of economic liberalisation but stepping forward post-liberalisation”. There is no doubt that Congress should focus for the welfare and upward mobility of the poor and dalit, but it also ensure that middle class which has turnbed the Modi bhakt and become devout Hindus, do not get the opportunity to launch a vicious cmapign aginst he Congress. The party has to ensure that their inclinstion towards BJP and RSS is reconciled and blunted. The Congress leadership must put forward an economic policy that will appeal to the people.

Though the BJP nurses strong averseness to NREGA scheme, the Modi government has been forced to continue with it as this is the only means to serve the poor in the existing situation. It ought to be mentioned that Sonia Gandhi had forced the party a decade ago to alter the contents of its liberalisation policy by introducing a strong welfare thrust, which resulted in measures such as the MGNREGA scheme — the 100-day rural employment guarantee drive — the Food Security Act and several pieces of rights-based legislation. Incidentally Rahul Gandhi had proposed in 2019 the Nyay scheme that sought to offer a fixed income support to the poor.

The Congress is now trying to incorporate that spirit in its future economic policy. The Congress leadership must realise that pursuing the policy of soft Hindutva will not rescue the party from the present crisis. It has to put in place high voltage anti poor policy and programme. In fact coming down of a section of the middle class to the rank of poor during the pandemic has made them realise that they were living in the world of fools’ paradise and make believe. They had fled to the villages and survived in their thatched houses during the pandemic.

It is sad that the Congress leadership is still wary of the Hindutva campaign plank of the BJP. They are not mustering courage to make the economy a major battle agenda. Cautioning the people against the BJP’s communal agenda and politics of hatred will no doubt help the party to some extent raise the level of conciseness, but to erase its footprint it is essential that the economic issued should get the priority. Simply urging people to realise that issues that polarise society are not important. What is important is the fight should be for economic empowerment. It is a depressing that 50 per cent women are anaemic; the growth of children has stunted due to malnutrition. The fundamental issues are health, education and extreme poverty.

Senior leader P Chidambaram was right in saying “A reset of economic policies must also address the questions of rising inequalities, extreme poverty among the bottom 10 per cent of the population, India’s rank in the Global Hunger Index 2021 (101 among 116 countries) and evidence of widespread nutritional deficiency among women and children. “A comprehensive review would also be justified by the health and education outcomes as revealed by the Annual State of Education Report 2021 and the National Family Health Survey-5. We believe that a recalibration of economic policies can influence health and education outcomes.”

Rahul has expressed his concern at the breaking down of Congress’ connection with people. He had announced his intention to undertake a yatra in October to re-establish and strengthen it. But once again he has chosen the populist mechanism. Yatras have lost their relevance and utility. If at all he is really interested in renewing connect with the people he must approach the poor directly at their doors and apprise them of the futility of the Modi’s policies. He can claim by undertaking yatra he would be meeting the people. But it would be different connotation than reaching out to the poor at their doors.

The fact is party must inculcate confidence in the local leaders and cadres and refrain the senior leaders from using them to achieve their personal interest. It is usually seen that the state leaders treat them as their helping hand. This tendency could be curbed in promoting the seasoned leadership who have been devoted to the cause of the party.

Obviously the ’Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir’ was held with an eye on the 2024 Lok Sabha election. With focus on the next election, the reforms which party intends to bring in the organisation will cover all aspects of the organisation; including structure, rules for appointments to party posts, communications and publicity, outreach, finances and election management. Sonia Gandhi should have announced the constitution of the task force which will go into the mechanism of reforms at the shivir itself. It wpould have encouraged the participants to comprehend the real nature of the reforms the leadership intends to bring in.

In its Udaipur Declaration adopted after deliberations at the ’Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir’, the Congress also decided to set up three new departments — public insight, election management and national training. The party has been scared of the shadow of the BJP is also man”fest in its resolution on nationalism. The Congress asserted that Indian nationalism is the core character of the party, while in contrast, the BJP’s "pseudo-nationalism" is centred on the hunger for power. It is the duty of every Congress person to bring this difference before the people, the declaration said. The Declaration also outlined that while the Congress has to strengthen its grassroots presence everywhere on the basis of its organisation, it must establish dialogue and contact with all like-minded parties to protect the spirit of nationalism and democracy and keep open avenues for forging alliances as per the political circumstances , the declaration said.

Sonia Gandhi is in hurry to salvage the situation is manifest in her call for urgent reforms in the party as "extraordinary situations demand extraordinary action" She said the party will have to change its style of functioning and urged them to keep the organisation above their personal ambitions and pay back their debt to the party as it had given a lot to everyone. The party also promised ‘big changes’ including age ceiling

Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused the BJP of conspiring to keep Indians in perpetual fear and conflict to ensure the success of its political agenda, which she said was incompatible with the constitutional scheme. In all fairness the party should have given the call to its rank and file to counter this inculcating fear syndrome and inducting psyche. The cadres must have been encouraged to come to the streets and fight against the machinations of the RSS and BJP. The strategy of the BJP to keep under its control. Sonia Gandhi rightly pointed out that divisive politics posed the gravest challenge to the nation and exhorted party workers to combat it with all their might. She should have spelled out the strategy how to combat the threat. This should have shown the preparedness and mental dexterity of the national leaders to take the challenges head on.

She was politically correct in saying : “it is not just the undermining of our long-cherished values embodied in the Constitution that are now at grave risk, the fires of hatred and discord that are being ignited have taken a heavy toll on peoples’ lives. This is having serious social consequences.” It is really a matter of deep concern that RSS and BJP, their frontal organisations want to keep our people in a state of perpetual frenzy and conflict.

Sonia Gandhi in her blistering attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, charged him that his mantra of ’minimum government, maximum governance’ means keeping the country in a permanent state of polarisation, "brutalising" minorities and "threatening" political opponents. It means using our societies age old pluralities to divide us and subverting a carefully nurtured idea of unity and diversity. It means threatening and intimidating political opponents, maligning their reputation, jailing them on flimsy pretexts using investigative agencies Gandhi further alleged. Nonetheless she did not spell out the strategy to fight this machination of Modi.

Though Sonia Gandhi is for alliance with strong and viable regional forces, Rahul Gandhi does not understand its implication on the future of the party or its determination to unseat Modi. Last week, Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao. Rahul said in clear words that Rao had single-handedly destroyed the dream of the people of Telangana when statehood was granted. He assured the people of the state that Congress will not have any understanding with him. This is ridiculous. For defeating BJP in Telegana the Congreess must have Rao on its die. He even went up to saying that Telangana was not ruled by the CM but by a ‘Raja’. Historical facts underline that it was the past decision of the Congress leadership that wiped out the party from the state.

Rahul Gandhi must learn when to speak and what to speak. It is time for the Congress leadership to show restraint. The party has lost its base in most of the states. It must adopt flexibility in dealing with the other opposition parties the only way forward is to make arrangements with regional forces. If Rahul does not adopt a rational approach towards other parties and understands the prevailing ground realities, all the exercises of holding shivirs would prove futile.

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