The Congress will hold a three-day international conference in Bengaluru from July 21 to 23 on ‘Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambdekar’. Human Rights Advocate Martin Luther King III and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi will preside over the conference, also termed a ‘Quest for Equity’. It will culminate in a Bengaluru declaration that promises a ‘New Deal’ for a ‘New India’ and also a possible blueprint for a ‘common minimum programme’ for a united opposition ahead of 2019.
ThePrint Deputy Editor Anubhuti Vishnoi caught up with the key architects of the conference, K. Raju, Chairman, SC Department of the All India Congress Committee and Dr H.C. Mahadevappa, Karnataka’s PWD Minister and the Convenor of the mega conference. Excerpts from the interview:
Why is the Congress proposing a ‘Quest for Equity’ after 70 years of independence, when it has been on the ruling side for the bulk of this period?
K. Raju: I think as a party we are always true to the ground realities. We are conscious of the unfinished agenda, and hence the Quest for Equity.
What would you say about how every political party is competing to lay claim on Ambedkar’s legacy?
Dr. H. C. Mahadevappa: Everybody wants to stake claim to Baba Saheb. Congress wants to do so to build a strong nation. The BJP has a different agenda – to have a Hindu rashtra.
Does it have to do with upcoming assembly elections in Karnataka? How is this conference different from the movements like #NotInMyName or the intolerance issue?
K. Raju: This was actually part of the Congress initiative to celebrate the 126th birth anniversary of Baba Saheb. It really has nothing to do with upcoming state elections.
Unlike #Notinmyname, where there are rightly focusing on certain oppressive events, this conference is looking at the entire canvas of challenges the society is facing.
You mention the promise of a “new India”. The PM has also been talking about a “New India”. How is your idea different?
K. Raju: The PM’s “New India” is a mere slogan, it’s a part of the government’s jumla campaign. The new deal we are talking about is about how to protect and safeguard rights, ensure constitutional values are preserved…
Is this more a show of strength by the Congress?
K. Raju: No. 90 percent of the participants are not Congress party leaders or members. They represent the progressive force in the country.
Are you involving other Opposition parties in the conference?
K. Raju: The conference and the declaration that is going to come will definitely become a rallying point for the opposition parties. We are hopeful that it will foster a kind of connectivity with all political parties except the BJP.
A number of conferences are held on similar issues. How is this going to be different? Is this a one-time conference or a larger idea?
K. Raju: This will become a guiding document for the Congress party to formulate its election manifesto or also a possible common minimum programme.
This is not going to be a one-time event.
Many will argue that it is a gathering of only Left Liberal or Congress affiliated scholars and persons. Your comments?
K. Raju: They (most participants) believe in the constitutional values of India. If that is seen as affiliation to the Congress, we can’t help it.
Will it take up issues like recent instances of mob lynching?
Yes, I am sure that discussion is going to happen. We expect that it will be taken up strongly.
While you have chosen Karnataka as the venue for this conference on equity and liberalism, the state also saw a recent incident of the state assembly resolving (resorting) to arrest journalists. Your comments?
Dr. H. C. Mahadevappa: We will never suppress freedom of speech. But the freedom is somewhere being misused or overused to tarnish the image of people without any basis, journalistic diligence or investigation.