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Not much was expected at Udaipur, Congress conclave remained true to the plot

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By Sidharth Mishra

If the much venerated English poet TS Eliot was ever asked to summarise the conclave of the Congress party at Udaipur, he would have altered the lines of his most celebrated work ‘The Waste Land’, and said, “It wasn’t ever expected to end with a bang, it did end with a whimper”.

The conclave – Chintan Shivir –, held after a gap of nine years, was largely expected to be an exercise in reiterating authority of the Gandhi clan and it managed to it successfully. If the party would have agreed to the setting up of the Congress Parliamentary Board, as demanded by the dissidents known by the epithet of G-23, the conclave could have been said to have ended with a bang. The much trumpeted reforms announced at the conclave only add to whimper.

If one further needed an evidence of the bang and whimper allegory, it was to be found in the statement of Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, who said about the deliberations of the political panel, “saw views passionately debated with amicable solutions found”. Thankfully Tharoor did not enter into the usual wordy inanity to create further confusion among the rank and file on the outcome of the session.

The list of reforms are such that best adage which one could find for them is being 'politically correct' --  Enforcing the ‘one family, one ticket’ rule with exception to be made only when another family member has been working in the party for at least five years; No person should hold one party position for more than five years; Provide 50 per cent representation to those below 50 years of age at all levels of organisation; Congress president will set up an advisory group from among Congress Working Committee (CWC) members to deliberate on political challenges; Task force will be set up to initiate the organisational reforms; Party will launch a ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ from Kanyakumari to Kashmir beginning on Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti October 2; Party will also launch the second phase of its 'Jan Jagran Yatra' at the district level from June 15. They may be politically correct but will they be politically advantageous is a matter of conjecture.

In a political environment where wearing of religion on sleeves has even forced Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to go temple-hoping and declare that he was a ‘jeneu-dhari Brahmin’, silence on issues of religion/secularism is deafening. It’s limited to reserving fifty percent seats in the organisation for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and the minorities.

The proposal for such quotas reflects on the lack of familiarity of 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 the matters were only helped with the likes of then Congress president Sitaram Kesri entering into an alliance in the 1990s with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) as junior partner for the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which was witnessing a rise in this period largely riding on the Ramjanambhoomi agitation, overcame the challenge of caste-politics not by reserving a place for Mandal castes in a subservient quota but bringing them to the fore front – 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 ‘unsettling’ the core dominant castes, who too were given sufficient space to do their politics.

In Uttar Pradesh today, the caste-backed parties like the Apna Dal are subsidiary in BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This is unlike the Congress which is the junior partner in alliances in Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Bihar.

One of the newspaper reports from Udaipur mentioned that Rahul Gandhi attentively took notes on the deliberation of the political, economy and other such panels. Its fine to take notes but the greater need for the party is to have a fine understanding country’s social structures, economic needs and also policies of the rival parties which have today reduced the Congress to a rump state of its original self.

A lesson could have been taken on how Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to take almost all castes together during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It provided 10 per cent reservation for the poor among the upper castes, transferred funds from PM pension schemes into the bank accounts of the farmers and pushed ahead with the Ayushman Bharat Yojana for urban poor, which helped counter the caste combinations built by the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Shakti Party-JD (U) in Bihar.

The combination of policy combined with politics was used to be strong point of the Congress till not many years ago. Some may claim that the Congress still has a core vote bank and thus a chance of revival. The question is how big and potent has this core remained. And even if this nucleus exists, its needs a bang to explode and spread, a whimper would not help.  

(First Published in The FirstPost)

 

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