Listen to this article:
Udaipur: Recalling the contributions of the Congress in independent India, from facilitating public infrastructure to ensuring basic facilities for the people of India, and sacrifices made by various leaders, all the way from Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to Sonia Gandhi who rejected the prime minister’s position in 2004, the grand old party ended its three-day Chintan Shivir with the call of “Bharat Jodo” on Sunday.
“Exactly 80 years ago, in the year 1942, Mahatma Gandhi gave the call of ‘Bharat Choro (Quit India)’. In the year 2022, the country’s slogan will be ‘Bharat Jodo”. This is the ‘nav sankalp’ of Udaipur,” CWC member Ajay Maken declared in a reference to the party’s proposed “Bharat Jodi Yatra” scheduled to begin on Gandhi Jayanti (October 2, 2022).
The three-day event was proposed by Rahul Gandhi after being handed a humiliating defeat in the assembly elections in five states by the Bharatiya Janata Party earlier this year. The defeat only helped the dissenting senior leaders raise the banner against the Gandhi family’s leadership and demand a rare internal election for the post of party president. Following the debacle, the Congress Working Committee, the highest decision making body, accepted Rahul Gandhi’s proposal for a brainstorming camp.
At the end of it, while most dissenting leaders’ viewpoints were accommodated in the declaration, it appeared that a majority of the participants still pitched for Rahul to take over the party’s leadership. However, most said that since the elections will happen, Rahul should contest and that they were certain of his victory. However, the Chintan Shivir represented most dissenting leaders. Barring Kapil Sibal, most of them were not only invited to the shivir but were given important convenorships of discussion panels. Bhupinder Singh Hooda was made a convenor of the panel related to farmers and agriculture while others like Manish Tewari, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and others were represented in other such panels.
The declaration eventually accommodated most of the proposals, considered to be the ideas of dissenting leaders. Ideas like “One Family, One Person”, having a dedicated election management committee, better representation of young leaders in committees, democratising party committees – right from the booth level – by nominating workers from different backgrounds, better representation of caste groups, a public insight committee to get feedback from the ground through the year, and making position-holders accountable, restricting terms for party posts, all found a place in the Udaipur declaration.
Some of the hotly debated topics in the shivir were on the party’s ideological stance and the need to build political alliances with smaller parties.
Some reports mentioned that leaders like Bhupesh Baghel and Kamal Nath were of the view that it was necessary for the party to break into Hindu votes that BJP seems to have consolidated, and thus the party should avoid taking a strong non-majoritarian political line. At the same time, other leaders, especially from southern India, advocated taking a strong secular line to combat the BJP and deliver an ideological clarity to party workers.
Similarly, whether the party should contest alone in the 2024 Lok Sabha or build alliances in its run up was also debated. Some leaders were of the view, especially in states like Bihar, where the party is weak, believed that the party should go alone in the benefit of its long-term goals. Other leaders who hoped that they stand a better chance by collaborating with other parties advocated political alliances with regional parties.
A senior leader who spoke with The Wire but sought anonymity, however, said that all leaders put forward their views keeping in mind the realities of their states. “There were different concerns raised keeping in mind the specific nature of certain states.We have sent our recommendations to the Congress president and she will take a final decision,” the leader said.
He, however, added that realities of different states are so different from each other that for the party to take a single stance will be easier said than done. He added that his personal view is not to ally with parties like Aam Aam Party or Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which he thinks are the “B-Teams” of the BJP. He also believed that alliances can be done in states where Congress is not pitched directly against the BJP.
The text of the declaration doesn’t spell out clearly the Congress party’s positions on these fronts. However, given how both Sonia and Rahul anchored their concluding remarks on an “ideological fight” with the BJP, it seems improbable that the party would consent to taking what is called a “soft Hindutva” political line. However, most leaders agreed that for the Congress to defeat the BJP, it has to reach out to a large section of Hindus, including those caste groups which have been unrepresented and underrepresented. This has also been mentioned in the declaration, and has come at a time when BJP’s multi-layered outreach programme has managed to win over a large section among these marginalised groups.
Whether there will be changes in top leadership structures remains unclear as of now. Similarly, there is no clarity over whether a person from the Gandhi family will contest elections or not, although participants at the event overwhelmingly favoured Rahul to take the reins.
Nevertheless, the declaration listed out Congress achievements in the years it had been in power right from independence. Successes in providing basic facilities like electricity, drinking water, roads, irrigation to farmers, telecommunications, technological know-how, public and private sector employment, and even playing a critical role in the creation of Bangladesh, have been recounted.
Among other initiatives, the declaration proposes to carry out training of workers on the political and economic agenda of the Congress. It intends to start the programme from Kerala’s Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Development Studies.
It remains to be seen how much of the declaration will be implemented in the days to come. Currently, most of the recommendations are only on paper. After all, similar resolutions were also made Panchmarhi (1998) and Shimla (2003) sessions. Eventually, it will depend on how much effort the party workers will be able to put in to revive the party. With a history of functioning more like a “patronage system” than a strictly ideological organisation, the Congress has cut a Herculean task out for itself.