Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Congress is doing something similar and the party’s leadership needs to realise this. Their recently concluded Chintan Shivir — a contemplation camp of sorts — seemed to be a shadow of the three-day 84th plenary session held in 2018 ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Those three days felt more powerful and effective than what we saw in last week’s Shivir in Udaipur.
Congress’ journey from 1885 to 2022 has been nothing short of an extraordinary odyssey that has seen many crests and troughs. And although the last decade has seen Congress at its lowest point, electorally, the history of 137 years makes us want to believe that perhaps the party is still not at the end of its rope. The Chintan Shivir is an attempt in that very direction, to ensure that Congress doesn’t dissolve into oblivion. The party has finally realised that something is wrong with them and they need to fix it.
Just because Congress has had a century-old journey and managed to stay alive so far doesn’t absolve it from being objectively scrutinised and brutally critiqued. Fact is, that despite experience and a rich history to take lessons from, the party is still making rookie mistakes. And it is nothing short of baffling.
It is hard to imagine that after nearly three years of Rahul Gandhi stepping down as the Congress President, the question of him taking the responsibility back is still being asked at a contemplation camp when they should have been categorically answered and not adjourned to another day. As a responsible leader, it is incumbent on Rahul Gandhi to answer this question so that the party can move on from this cliffhanger and get on with reforms under an able leadership. But as usual, the question remains unanswered. And the next Lok Sabha election is just two years away.
Also, Congress’s ideology is completely diluted. The Shivir had a pointed discussion on how Congress will take on BJP ideologically. Leaders such as Kamal Nath, Bhupesh Bhagel and UP leader Acharya Pramod Krishnam were of the view that Congress needs to toe the majoritarian line and take a soft-Hindutva stance to woo Hindu voters. This was met with stiff opposition by South India’s Congress leaders as well as Maharashtra’s leader Prithviraj Chavan who insisted on sticking to secularism. But the truth remains — Congress leaders in their bastions are doing as they please to win elections, so the core ideology of the party is in disarray. Bhagel himself admitted reaching out to Hindus through programmes to counter BJP’s Hindutva agenda.
If a party, after 137 years of existence, is still discussing its foundational ideas and core ideology and can’t have everyone on board, the road ahead will be rocky. Even if we assume that everything the party promised at this Chintan Shivir will be implemented — one family one ticket, age limit of under 50 for all party posts, training programmes and ground-level connect with people — the whole event still seemed to be a half-baked, morale-boosting PR exercise. With the likes of Kapil Sibal and Hardik Patel missing and Modi-praising Ghulam Nabi Azad occupying front row, the Chintan Shivir’s participation felt meritless.
The Congress leadership, essentially the Gandhis, comes across extremely democratic and humble in inviting, consulting and giving charge of six crucial committees in this Chintan Shivir to seven G-23 members: Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Shashi Tharoor and Akhilesh Pratap Singh. These are the Congress leaders who sought a leadership change and an overhaul of the party’s working structure.
But Kapil Sibal who is hot on the heels of halting the sedition law remained conspicuously absent from this collective contemplation exercise of the party. He is, in a practical sense, one of the most vital Congress faces who has in the past and is still leading the Congress in many legal battles and emerging victorious. The Congress leadership is yet to acknowledge Sibal’s contribution viv a vis the sedition verdict.
Hardik Patel too gave the three-day camp a miss, some say, because many state congress working presidents were not invited to it.
It seems as though the Congress keeps going round and round the same circle, expecting a different outcome. They keep discussing elevating younger leaders to lucrative posts but inevitably end up with the same leaders discussing the same questions with no definitive answers. Merit is barely factored in, which should be seen above the age of the leader or the family he or she comes from.
What remains to be seen now is the reports from Chintan Shivir’s committees that will be forwarded to Congress working president Sonia Gandhi. Will this just be another mulling over the reports for months kind of scenario? Or will there be practical action and implementation of the suggestions that will lead to significant party reforms immediately?
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)