The drawing board has to be brought out. The fact that the Indian National Congress leadership gathered around it in Udaipur for the Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir Sunday added some historical resonance. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Govind Singh Dotasra, Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee president, left little to imagined comfort for the spirited party warriors who scampered across the hills and valleys of the Taj Aravali Resort.
The Chintan Shivir was many things rolled into one—from taking stock of our present to recalling the glory and gore of the past; determining to fight the toxic shadow of the incumbent Narendra Modi government to seriously analysing our ideological positions that suffered an erosion of support at the hands of the purveyors of fake miracles; committing ourselves to retrieve the missing national conversation to rededicating our lives to the revival of our party for the sake of true Indian democracy.
A promising debut
The participants of the Chintan Shivir were carefully chosen, determined largely by the organisational and governmental positions they hold with some conspicuous evergreen talent that saw better days. There were, of course, an impressive array of young and enthusiastic men and women rubbing shoulders with seniors who had been to many Shivirs in the past, each time in challenging moments from where they led the party to electoral prominence. The participants were distributed into six panels — organisation, political, economic, agriculture, social justice and empowerment, and youth.
While all the groups hold traditional importance for the Congress, this Shivir saw the debut of an integrated and coordinated effort by the departments of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), minorities, Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). These four sections—along with women, particularly from the above four categories—make up for an overwhelming majority of our society. In the past, they ploughed their respective furrows, periodically collaborating with one another in the collective struggle against injustice. But this time, the quest for empowerment and the organisational bunching of the four departments under a single overseer unleashed remarkable, positive ambitions. An impact here can well turn the electoral fortunes of the party.
These communities were steady followers of the Congress before 2014 but drifted away later on to regional outfits or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for a variety of reasons. Reflecting on the developments, we identified a clear path of substantive delivery of entitlements along with identification and active nurturing of political leadership from among the four groups.
Developing leadership is a work in progress, but the project received a boost in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), which approved the proposal to set up a Social Justice Advisory Council to keep the party president updated with emergent issues and dimensions of the backward classes and disadvantaged social groups.
No more ad-hocism
This is the age of rapid communication and constant felt deprivation at the hands of the mainstream media, which functions under duress and a willing suspension of disbelief. Therefore, the integration of the separate segments of media, publicity, social media, data collation et al has become necessary. This was quickly agreed upon by the CWC for streamlining visual and spoken dimensions of our party public outreach. With a more effective presence, we need to attend to better electoral performance management.
Lest people think that we gave up a golden opportunity by stonewalling Prashant Kishor’s offer of in-house election management, the CWC boldly responded to the need of the hour by deciding to set up the department of election management. What we did piecemeal and often with new players each time, smacking of ad hocism, will now be done professionally and on an ongoing basis. If PK can claim to make parties win elections, we have opted for making ourselves win. Of course, we might get professional inputs, but the politics will remain our own domain as the energetic participation in discussions made clear.
The self-consciousness, if there was any, about how to deal with the BJP repeatedly using religion to polarise the electorate has been swept away. The Congress will vigorously return to the masses with crises crossing yatras—the Kashmir to Kanyakumari padayatra being the piece de resistance to commence on Gandhi Jayanti. The cry of ‘Bharat Jodo’, or Unite India, already resonating in the hearts of more than 400 delegates, will reach every home in the country to assert the spirit of nationalistic fervour of ‘Bharat Chodo’. It will be a clear battle between political nationalism and the moral high ground of the Congress party. As Rahul Gandhi put it, “the conversation between the people of India” must begin here and now. The Udaipur Declaration has triggered wholesome conversation in the party, described by Sonia Gandhi as her “(extended) family”, as well as across India. “We shall overcome” were her parting words of promise and determination.
Towards a new horizon
As the message spreads, the party will quickly get down to structural and management reform, including the appointment of the task force of the CWC to provide rapid inputs to the Congress president and the Social Justice Advisory Council, the filling of vacancies at different levels, and the implementation of affirmative action (20 per cent ST, SC, OBC, minorities, inclusive of 33 per cent quota therein of women). Such measures will emphatically underscore that our words and deeds are compatible and that we cherish truth in this age of half-truths and fake news. Some people might think we are ambitious, and, indeed, we are.
Inevitably, the youth versus experience issue surfaced. Even though the demographic picture of the participants was a clear acknowledgement of the realities of modern India, there was yet considerable advocacy for a younger profile of the organisation. While the seniors nodded in agreement and half of the positions at all levels and election tickets were underscored for below 50 years, the middle path survives.
As for seniors, we live to fight for another day, not to fight another day. Thus, some will walk, and some run to the destination we have set our sights on for 2024. The whistle has signalled the beginning of the marathon.
Salman Khurshid is a Congress leader, senior advocate and author. He tweets @salman7khurshid. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)