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

Congress’s Udaipur conclave: will chintan lead to manthan? | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 21 May 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu

May, 16, 2022

The much hyped about ‘Chintan Shivir’ of the Congress Party is over. The deliberations largely reflected the chintan ( thinking ) among the Party leaders, some of which were indeed good, but the more serious question is will all that chintan lead to manthan?

First things first. About 400 plus national and state level eaders of the Party were invited. But, care was taken not to invite seniors like Mr. Kapil Sibal, a member of the G-23, probably fearing he will raise his voice again for a non-Gandhian to head the Party . Leaders like Gulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma were invited, who have in any case made peace with the Gandhi family, specially Sonia Ghandhi, and have implicitly agreed to the Party being led by them. On the other hand, the independently elected MLA of the Gujarat Assembly, with the support of the Congress Party, Jagdeesh Mevani was invited along with Kannaiah Kumar. Reports have it that Rahul Gandhi’s supporters were in big number at the Udaipur conclave, with Sonia loyalists like Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Even the composition of the Committees included Rahul and Sonia loyalists like Mukul wasnik, Ajay Maken and Mallikarjun Kharge, to the exclusion of senior thinking leaders like Veerappa Moiley, who was part of the G-23 initially, but quickly disaasociated with the demand for a non-Gandhian to head the Party, underlying the point that the change-seekers are not welcome to the larger group, though they may be tolerated by the Gandhis-led Party.

In her inaugural address at the conclave, Sonia Gandhi came down heavily on the Modi Government for its pursuit of communal polarisation. However, citing the unprecedented situation in which the Party was placed, she chanted the UNITY MANTRA, hinting thereby that indiscipline and discordant notes would not be taken kindly as the Party charts on its reinvetion programme to face the challenges in the years ahead.

On his part, Rahul Gandhi was candid about the failure of the Party to establish the right connect with the masses. He lamented the internal bickerings have always grabbed the attention of the Party and its leaders and that unless such things are replaced by genuine efforts to find out what the people really want and expect from the Party, capturing power would be difficul to capture power. He rued over the Party’s failure to expose the disastrous consequences of the Central Government’s policies on the people, a point which was highlighted by Chidambaram also in his remarks while submitting the report on the economic situation. However, at his own level, Rahul Gandhi needs to go beyond his single point agenda of personally attacking Modi all the time and focus primarily on projecting policy alternatives. He was critical of the regional parties for their ideological timidity, ( a phrase not used by Rahul Gandhi) to fight the BJP. But, it is true that the Congress Party itself lost an opportunity at Udaipur to take a tough ideological stand vis-a-vis BJP’s communal agenda and affirmed that the Congress Party alone can provide an alternative government to the BJP led Modi regime. The present Congress leadership should realise that Soft Hindutva, as it is practised by it, also will not work. It is time the Party comes up with a slogan like ‘Indutva’, and popularise it in the minds of all sections of the citizens that only secularism will work as a bulwark in opposition to BJP’s Hindutva politics. But, will the Congress leaders bite the bullet? Probably not. It is an open secret that vast sections of the minorities—Christians and Muslims—have developed apprehensions about the Congress Party’s commitment to protect their rights and interests. The Party can ill afford to ignore their sentiments, both in terms of its commitment to the values enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution as well as for electoral politics.

Udaipur Declaration

At the conclusion of the Nav Sankalp Shivir, the Congress Working Committee ( CWC) adopted what it called the Udaipur Declaration. Reading out the declaration, Party General Secretary Ajay Maken referred to the decision to set up three departments.
1 A ‘Public Insight Department to get “rational feedback” for knowing the views of the public on different subjects for inclusion in policy making. Details about the composition of the department are awaited. It would be prudent to have such a department constituted at the State, District and Taluka levels too which would work in close cooperation with one another.

2.Establishment of a “National Training Institute”, to help the Party leaders and workers get comprehensive training on issues delating to policies, ideology, vision, and on burning issues facing the nation. It would be useful if such Training Institutes see established at the State level too as the issues facing the members and voters differ from place to place. It would also pertinent to involve non partisan experts in the deliberations of such training institutes.

3.“Election Management Department”, to be constituted at the level of All India Congress Committee” (AICC) so that election preparations are done effectively and expected results are obtained”. Hopefully, the AICC led initiative would not be top heavy in terms of allocation of tickets and resources. Its functioning should be marked by free and transparent discussion, available for scrutiny by state level groups, as they will be held responsible when the desired results are not achieved.

The Udaipur Declaration also adopted the ‘one person one post’ and ‘one family one ticket’ decision for elections, but with exception to be made to party member working in the organisation for a minimum of five years. Members of the Gandhi dynasty and many other key functionaries will be the obvious beneficiaries of this move. 50 percent reservation for youth in the organisation was approved, but expectedly, suggestions for retirement age of leaders were not considered. The Party also did not effectively reaffirm its committment to the underprivileged sections, specially those among the OBCs, who constitute a big chunk of BJP’s support base, in addition to many among the SC groups and Muslim women who have voted for the BJP, both Modi in 2019 and Yogi Adityanath recently during the assembly elections.

It was also decided to organise a ‘Bharat Jodo’( Unite India) rally from October 2nd from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, to “strengthen the bonds of social harmony and to highlight the concerns of the crores of our people”. It remains to be seen how seriously the top echolons of the Party would involve themselves in efforts at reaching out to the masses during the rally and after. As Prashant Kishor has often said the Congress leaders should be in perinatal touch with the masses by organising periodic contact programmes with the voters throughout the country as well as formulate a counter narrative to that of the BJP by taking up issues relating to inflation, handling unemployment etc.

In conclusion, time alone will tell whether in the post-Udaipur phase, the Congress Party would really reincarnate itself or it will be result in some tinkering of changes and perceived by the masses largely as a clever move by the Gandhis and their loyalists to protect their intersts.

(The writer is former Professor Political Science, Bangalore University, and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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