By Dhurjati Mukherjee
The recently concluded Chintan Shivir of the Congress at its Udaipur Declaration has given a call for ‘Bharat Jodo’ (United India) against divisive politics that has left social harmony in tatters. It is significant that this comes 80 years after Gandhiji’s call of ‘Bharat Chhodo’ (Quit India). The declaration rightly pointed out: “There is a perverse conspiracy to divide people on the basis of religion, caste, food habits, clothes, language, region and colour. The bigotry of the current rulers has pushed even the economy into peril. This rings alarm, for a grave danger to India’s present and future”.
Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi announced that the Bharat Jodo yatra,tocommence 2 October, is meant to strengthen the bonds of social harmony that are under stress, to preserve the foundational values of the Constitution that are under assault and to highlight the daily concerns of the people, including price rise and unemployment. Obviously, reaching out to people at the grass-root level is the Congress message from the Shivir and to put spotlight on the skewed policies being pursued by the present Modi government.
The conclave considered significant organisational changes, including the establishment of a public insight department to ensure continuous feedback from the ground level and 50 percent reservation for those below 50 years of age from the highest forum to the booth levels. Though there was some resistance to the latter proposal, political analysts believe that this is a prudent step to revitalise the party at this point of time. The need to bring in new and young faces into leadership roles is critical.
The party also decided to establish greater interaction with religious and social groups to deepen its contact with institutions that command loyalty of key population blocs. This again is the party’s strategy to connect with the grassroots more effectively. Another way of the Congress reaching to the lowest levels is to set up a mandal committee for 15-20 booth committees. Other decisions include having an assessment wing to monitor the performance of its departments and its office-bearers. A better discipline enforcement system may be evolved under this department. All these suggest that the Congress has finally woken up to the fact that it needs to restructure its organisational capacity, which fades in comparison to the BJP’s.
Besides, the regressive conditions prevailing in the country, need to be highlighted. Not just inflation and sufferings of the poor but also violence perpetrated by majoritarianism, communal hatred, bitter bickering amongst political parties, criminalisation of politics, autocratic tendencies of ruling dispensations haveunfortunately become the order of the day. A look at Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal or other parts of the country, adds to the confirmation.
Former President Rahul Gandhialso attacked the Modi government at the Centre, accusing it of spreading hatred, pressuring the judiciary, arm-twisting the Election Commission, destroying institutions, and muzzling the media.He said his fight was against the ideology of the RSS-BJP and the “hatred and violence that they spread”. This apart, he observed that the Prime Minister always harped on cooperative federalism but actually practised ‘coercive federalism’. Former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, stated that the PM exhorted States to cut VAT rate on petrol and diesel but the Ministry of Finance announced that the Centre owed Rs 78704 crore to the States. The actual amount may be more as per claims of various States. Meanwhile, the alleged misuse of central agencies such as the CBI, Enforcement Directorate and the National Investigation Agency has been the commonest grudge of Opposition parties.
Also, centralised decision-making at New Delhi has led Opposition Chief Ministers to fiercely complain about such autocratic tendencies during Covid management, demonetisation and the imposition of CAA and farm laws, now repealed. The federal character of the State has been lost, as the Centre is not interested in a consultative and decentralised approach to decision making and governance.
The Congress needs to grab the opportunity with discontent brewing against the BJP at various quarters. However, its failure to reach out to the masses, at the grass root levels, with an alternative approach is well-known and needs correction. As Rahul said: “Their (the people’s) issues…we should understand. And the connection that we used to have with the people will have to be re-established…for they understand that only the Congress can take the country forward….”
But first the Congress needs to set its house in order. The bureaucratisation of the party, being controlled by rootless managers, most of whom are completely divorced from ground realities, need to change immediately.
The question is whether the proposals at the Shivir will help the leadership dismantle this self-contained bureaucracy and develop organisational roots? The focus cannot remain on just the Gandhis, whose popularity is on the downhill as stated by recent Assembly elections. The high command concept may remain, as most parties in the country follow this political principle, but the middle level leadership must be strengthened.
Will the Congress transform to become an effective force towards attainment of cooperative federalism. No doubt, the party follows secular and pro-poor policies. However, it appears to have finally drawn a strategy towards attainment of a strong dose of economic decentralization and involvement of the lower tiers of the political machinery in the decision-making process. Will decentralisation, including at the top yield results?
Moreover, it must also ensure leaders with a clean image, well-educated with motivation to work with dedication and sincerity are asked to lead. There is need for young leaders in the country who do not indulge in sectarian politics and are willing to understand and ameliorate the problems of the suffering masses. It remains to be seen whether the Congress realises this and takes effective action in this regard.
It would be an arduous challenge to bring the major Opposition forces on board to fight the elections. The Congress is not able to do so as of now. It’s fight against RSS-led Hindu chauvinists cannot be fought just by proclaiming being ‘secular’, it must prove its credentials through a strong and determined youth organization, which it has proposed. At the same time, it needs to consider how to counter BJP’s religious Hindu card by opening the Ram temple just a few months before 2024 elections.
Will the ‘revival’ strategy by the party, with a united and committed leadership, combining all factions within the Congress, help in strengthening the party and try to provide alternative governance in the country? It’s too early to venture a guess. — INFA