Udaipur: A down-in-the-dumps Congress party begins a three-day ‘Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir’ Friday, its first in nearly a decade, hoping to brainstorm and strategise its way out of the political hole it finds itself in.
It’s being held in Udaipur, with more than 450 party delegates in attendance, and former party president Rahul Gandhi travelling to the city by train from Delhi.
The meet comes at a crucial time for the party as it looks to reorganise and revive itself after successive electoral defeats, the most recent of which it suffered in March when the results of the assembly polls in five states were declared.
Sources in the Congress told ThePrint that the focus of the three-day event would be organisational restructuring within the party and formulating its main narrative against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
While Congressmen had already started trickling into the picturesque city in Rajasthan from Thursday morning, at least 80 senior leaders accompanied Gandhi on his train journey. These included Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, former Union minister Jairam Ramesh, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Manickam Tagore, former Union minister Jitendra Singh Alwar, former MP Ajoy Kumar and former Delhi MLA Anil Chaudhary.
They took the 7.35 pm Chetak Express from Delhi’s Sarai Rohilla railway station Thursday evening, and reached Udaipur at about 8 am Friday. Sources in the Congress said that at least one coach was booked for the party.
When Gandhi reached the station in Delhi, he was greeted by a crowd of Congress workers who had been asked to assemble there. Party workers also thronged the train as it slowed down at Pataudi station.
The former Congress President also met members of the coolie’s (railway porters) association in Delhi. In a video released by the Congress, the delegation could be seen asking Gandhi to ensure their wellbeing.
“Satta ho toh saath rahega. (If we have power, we will stand by you),” Gandhi could be heard saying in response.
Another video released by the party shows Gandhi get off the train, as it stops at Chittorgarh at 5am in the morning, to greet Congress workers there.
Gandhi’s train sojourn becomes significant with the election for the Congress president scheduled soon. Given that the polls are due in just three months — some time in August-September — there is speculation that there may be clamour at the Shivir for Gandhi to take over the party top post from his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
This is the fourth Chintan Shivir the party is hosting in its history. The last one was in 2013 in Jaipur. Before that, the first two were both held in Shimla, in 1998 and 2003.
Why the Shivir
Speaking at a curtain-raiser event for the Shivir Thursday, Congress general secretary and communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala said there are six-seven reasons this Shivir is being held.
These reasons, Surjewala said, relate to India’s wealth inequality, the “freefall” of its economy, price rise and inflation, unemployment, loss of farmers’ rights to corporates, representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ STs) in institutions and finally, India’s territorial integrity, especially with regard to neighbours such as China.
“We know that India expects us to review our organisational dexterity, capacity, capability, and also to adapt ourselves to the current situation and challenges,” he added.
Meanwhile, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot said, “The Constitution is being mocked. There is an environment of violence in the country.”
“Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, all of them have sacrificed their lives for the country. So, it feels bad when the government asks what has the Congress done in 70 years? There will be no Congress-mukt (free) Bharat. Those who want a Congress-mukt Bharat will be mukt themselves,” he added.
Discussions on organisational structure, alliances
Prior to the event, Congress president Sonia Gandhi instituted six coordination panels to prepare papers, proposals, and the agenda for discussion at the Shivir. These panels are — political, organisation, economy, farmers and agriculture, social justice, and youth empowerment.
Sources in the Congress told ThePrint that based on proposals presented by these panels at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) Monday, the most important discussions will likely be on reservations within the organisation, modalities of elected posts and, politically, the party’s alliance strategies in the coming days.
Speaking about the discussion on alliances, a senior Congress leader said the party will “not form any alliance at the cost of the Congress”.
“Rahulji has already made it clear that the alliance with the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) will not happen. Even with AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), the party is not very keen. In other states like Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, we will have to take a call that doesn’t harm the Congress’s organisation in these states,” said the leader.
Another leader said there were likely to be discussions on reservations for leaders aged below 50 in organisational positions and ticket distribution.
As reported by ThePrint earlier, a discussion on reinstating the party’s parliamentary board and a one-family-one-ticket policy for elections is also expected to be deliberated upon.
Reservations for SC/STs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) within the organisation and during ticket distribution may also be taken up.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)