The Chintan Shivir Congress, held after a nine-year hiatus, was widely meant to be an exercise in reiterating the authority of the Gandhi clan and it succeeded in doing so.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses the three-day closing session of the Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir party in Udaipur, Rajasthan on Sunday. Twitter/@INCIndia
Had the much revered English poet TS Eliot been asked to summarize the Congress party conclave in Udaipur, he would have altered the lines of his most famous work. land of wasteand said, “We didn’t expect it to end with a bang, it ended with a moan.”
The Congress conclave – Chintan Shivir – which was held after a nine-year hiatus, was widely meant to be an exercise in reiterating the authority of the Gandhi clan and it succeeded in doing so. If the party had agreed to the establishment of the congressional office, as demanded by dissidents known as G-23, the conclave could have been said to have ended with a bang. The much-vaunted reforms announced at the conclave only add to the groans.
If further proof of the bang and groan allegory was needed, it was in the statement of Thiruvananthapuram MP, Shashi Tharoor, who said of the policy panel deliberations “saw opinions heatedly debated with solutions amicably found”. Fortunately, Tharoor did not go into the usual verbal inanity to create further confusion among the base over the outcome of the session.
The list of reforms is such that the best adage you can find for them is to be “politically correct” – applying the “one family, one ticket” rule with an exception to be made only when another family member has worked in the party for at least five years; no one should hold office in a party for more than five years; ensuring 50% representation of under 50s at all levels of the organization; The Congress President will set up an advisory group among members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to deliberate on policy challenges; a task force will be set up to initiate organizational reforms; the party will launch a “Bharat Jodo Yatra” from Kanyakumari to Kashmir starting with Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti on October 2; will also launch the second phase of its “Jan Jagran Yatra” at the district level from June 15. They may be politically correct, but whether they will be politically advantageous is a matter of guesswork.
In a political environment where wearing religion on the sleeves even forced Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to go into the temple and declare himself a “young-dhari Brahmin”, silence on matters of religion /secularism is deafening. It limits itself to reserving 50% of seats in the organization for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minorities.
The proposal of such quotas reflects the lack of familiarity with the current social and political structure. In post-Mandal India, politics changed with the emergence of caste-backed and religion-centric parties. These parties cut into the Congress vote bank and things were only helped by the likes of then Congress President Sitaram Kesri who entered into an alliance in the 1990s with the Bahujan Samaj party. (BSP) as Junior Partner for Assembly Polls in Uttar Pradesh. .
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was growing in power at this time largely due to the agitation of Ram Janmabhoomi, overcame the challenge of caste politics not by making room for the Mandal castes in a quota subservient, but bringing them to the fore – the rise of Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and of course Narendra Modi in Gujarat. This was done without “disturbing” the core of the dominant castes, who were also given enough space to do their politics.
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In Uttar Pradesh today, caste-backed parties like the Apna Dal are affiliates of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This is different from Congress which is the junior partner of the alliances in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Bihar.
One of the Udaipur newspaper reports mentions that Rahul Gandhi carefully took notes on the deliberations of political, economic and other committees. It’s fine to take notes, but the greatest need for the party is to have a keen understanding of the country’s social structures, economic needs and also the policies of the rival parties which have today reduced Congress to a rump state of his original self.
A lesson could have been learned from how Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to rally almost all castes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It provided a 10% reserve for the poor among the upper castes, transferred funds from PM pension schemes to farmers’ bank accounts and advanced Ayushman Bharat Yojana for the urban poor, which helped counter the caste combinations constructed by the Samajwadi. Party-Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Shakti Party-JD (U) in Bihar.
The combination of combined politics with politics used to be a strength of Congress until a few years ago. Some may argue that Congress still has a base vote bank and therefore a chance for renewal. The question is how big and powerful is this core. And even if this core exists, it needs a hit to explode and spread, a moan wouldn’t help.
The author is author and president of the Center for Reforms, Development & Justice. The opinions expressed are personal.
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