Berating BJP, Congress does not address how it can stem attrition in its vote base by AAP; Rahul thumbs his nose at regional parties.
The Grand Old Party did not deviate from its grand old ways during its three-day Nav Sankalp Shivir hosted at a plush Taj group resort in Udaipur. Sonia Gandhi led the speakers in berating BJP. But no alternate vision to the one offered by BJP emerged. Leadership question was out of bounds in the discussion format. Rahul Gandhi did not indicate if he will run for presidentship when party elections are held in September. Organisational reform, with a 50% overall reservation for under-50-year-olds with a proviso that 50% of posts will be reserved for minorities, SC/ST/OBC and women was heralded. At present some Congress state units have 40-odd vice presidents and a hundred general secretaries. The loaves and fishes will be distributed on pro rata basis henceforth.
A public insight department, which will plan election strategy and an integrated communication department, which will engulf social and traditional media outreach, was envisaged. The data analytics department of AICC had projected wins for the party in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa in 2022. Perhaps the insight department will do better.
Like an ostrich, Congress preferred to bury its head in Rajasthan’s desert sand and slight the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a force which can scrape the party’s anti-BJP vote bank in the states where dominant regional parties do not hold sway. Punjab has been lost to AAP—Arvind Kejriwal is active in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat where elections are due later this year. AAP is trying to make inroads in other states, where the contest so far has been confined between BJP and Congress—it plans to primarily dent Congress base.
Rahul Gandhi’s remark that regional parties are sans ideology left the party’s coalition partners and potential allies fuming. At Pachmarhi in 1998, Congress, taking note of the emergence of coalition politics, had charted a road map for cooperation with the Left and regional parties. Udaipur was silent on this. Perhaps the party plans to go it alone. It did so in Uttar Pradesh—two candidates won, 390 lost their deposits.
Over the years Congress has lost promising leaders—some formed their own regional parties and thrived, while some joined BJP and got plum positions. Eight state Chief Ministers today are former Congresspersons. Congress rules in only two states. No discussion took place to analyse why attrition is taking place in the party’s ranks or how to weave a “pan-Congress” front with estranged cadres who are also opposed to BJP. Congress till 2019 retained 20% vote share: it polled 11.9 crore votes in 2009, dipped to 10.69 crore in 2014 and regained to poll 11.94 crore in 2019 (BJP’s votes rose from 7.8 cores to 17.16 crore in 2014 and 22.9 crore in 2019). With AAP snapping at its heels, will Congress be able to retain its base in 2024?
Invincibility of the Gandhi troika was all too evident. Their accountability was not called into question. Rahul Gandhi’s “inaccessibility”, his frequent disappearances to overseas destinations, unknown to the rank and file, were not on the agenda. In his inward journey to Udaipur, he travelled by an overnight train. He was warmly received at railway stations by party workers organised by the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee. His return journey was by a special flight. Could he not have taken the rail route, and addressed workers on the outcome of Udaipur? Within four days of returning from Udaipur, Rahul Gandhi flew off to London—to address a seminar at Cambridge.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was accompanied by her children. After the Udaipur jamboree, she left for a nearby forest resort. During the party’s three-day pow-wowing with Prashant Kishor last month, Rahul flew abroad on day one, while Priyanka left for California on the penultimate day. During the Udaipur deliberations, a delegate from UP, Acharya Pramod Krishnam, proposed that if Rahul was unwilling Priyanka could be anointed Congress President. His comment was met with silence.
Accusing the BJP of “dividing the nation”, the Udaipur mandate is to organise a “Bharat Jodo Yatra” from Kashmir to Kanyakumari beginning Gandhi Jayanti, 2 October. Will Rahul Gandhi be on padyatra while the poll campaign is at its peak in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat? There was a debate on religious outreach. Prior to reaching Udaipur, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel had said there was an attempt to project Ram as “Rambo” and suggested that Congress should project Ram as “maryada purushottam”. The session did not come out with any roadmap on BJP’s Hindutva or AAP’s soft Hindutva. There was a reference to the 1991 Religious Places Act in the context of the Varanasi Gyanvapi imbroglio. It was not mentioned that BJP had voted against the law in Parliament.
The party’s “one-family-one-ticket” formula has been skewed to exclude the Gandhi family as well as the families of important satraps from its purview. The G23 (now 21) did not raise any of the issues which had hogged media headlines last year. “The leadership question was not in the agenda” was the common refrain.
While youth have been promised 50% of the organisational posts in the Udaipur resolve, the fate of 44-year-old Sachin Pilot, who, as Rajasthan PCC chief had led the party to victory in 2018 and has been angling for the CM’s post, is still in a limbo. All posters with Sachin’s photographs welcoming the delegates on the roads leading to the venue were removed by government officials prior to the arrival of the VVIPs. 28-year-old Hardik Patel, who had been made working president of the Gujarat PCC amidst fanfare, was not among the 427 delegates to Udaipur. He left the party later alleging that when AICC observers visited his state priority was accorded to “arranging chicken sandwiches” for them than to plan to counter the Modi-Shah juggernaut in its home turf.
The demand for reviving the Congress Parliamentary Board (CPB), which as per provisions of the party’s Constitution has powers above those of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), was overlooked. CPB was disbanded in 1991. Instead, an Advisory Committee nominated by the party president from among the CWC members has been preferred. The G23(21) were not vocal on their CPB demand—some say the signatories, having completed their Rajya Sabha terms, are not willing to annoy the Gandhi troika, lest they lose out on future nominations. BJP crossed the 100-mark in Rajya Sabha recently—Congress strength is down to 29. In Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Parishad (Upper House in the bicameral legislature), Congress for the first time since 1935 has zero representation (it has 2 MLAs in a house of 403). Thus legislative nomination opportunities in the party are dwindling.
Apart from the Gandhi troika, Udaipur saw the emergence of a core team which now dominates the party: Ambika Soni, Digvijaya Singh, Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh, K.C. Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik, Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, Manickam Tagore, Ajay Maken, and Randeep Surjewala. Will this motley team be able to challenge BJP in the 12 state elections in the run up to 2024, or in the Lok Sabha polls?