As part of the manifesto consultation process, Congress will organise over 150 meetings with experts and the public across the country.
New Delhi: Taking a leaf from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s poll book, the Congress is organising ‘town hall meetings’ across the country to gather feedback to draft its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress will also launch a website to seek people’s suggestions.
In 2014, it was the BJP that first came up with the idea when it launched a website to seek suggestions from the people for the general elections then. In subsequent assembly elections, the BJP used social media platforms and held meetings with various sections of the people to draw up its poll promises.
The Congress is looking to replicate this strategy as it plans to hold more than 150 consultation meetings, including in a town hall format, with experts from different fields and common people to seek their suggestions for the manifesto. Apart from attending the meetings, people will also be able to send their suggestions through the website, email and WhatsApp.
So far, the party has organised 16 meetings in the town hall format in New Delhi, Aligarh, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Kochi, and other cities.
The Congress has named the process as ‘Jan Awaaz’ (Voice of the People).
The party’s manifesto committee has already zeroed in on jobs and farm distress as its focus areas. It is likely to promise a farm loan waiver in the manifesto, said party sources.
It will look to corner the BJP on the issue of corruption, including the alleged Rafale scam, to neutralise its consistent attempt to paint opposition leaders as corrupt and also to ‘expose’ the ruling party’s claims of probity and transparency.
“These meetings are open to all and we are keeping track of all suggestions. Some of the meetings are in a town hall format while others are closed-door too,” said a senior party leader who didn’t wish to be named.
“Senior Congress leaders who are the manifesto committee members address these meetings. Chairman of the manifesto committee P. Chidambaram will be holding a meeting this week in Mumbai. We are looking at conducting at least 150-160 such meetings,” added the leader.
As part of the manifesto drafting process, 20 sub-groups have been formed and each member will hold at least 8 consultations, including on economic policy, national security and foreign policy, farmers and agriculture.
“There will also be closed-door consultations with experts and (party president) Rahul Gandhi will also attend some of these. The feedback will be taken to draft the manifesto,” said another senior Congress leader.
One closed-door meeting with economists took place recently in New Delhi. Similar meetings are planned for other states too.
The second party leader added that there is greater planning and coordination in drafting the manifesto this time compared to the 2014 elections where the message got lost in “infighting”.
In the manifesto consultation held so far, the party has received a number of general and specific suggestions.
For instance, pharmacy students in Nagpur have sought regulation of the online industry due to concerns over jobs. In the social sector, the party received suggestions on how to bring within the fold of the organised sector those outside, such as domestic helps.
“The consultations that are happening this time are very different from 2014 not only on the level of the scale, which is quite large, but the fact that it is very organised. We are not only going to towns and cities but to the interiors too to ensure the manifesto reflects diverse voices,” said the second leader.
After the gathering process is over, there is talk of providing specific deadlines for the promises that will be made as part of the manifesto.
The research department of the Congress is keeping track of all the suggestions.
In its 2014 manifesto, the Congress had promised to create 100 million jobs and to introduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) within 100 days of Parliament in the first year. It had also promised the passage of the women reservation’s bill and to set up a national environment appraisal and monitoring body.
The manifesto also carried a pledge of $1 trillion investment in infrastructure over a decade. It had promised to waive all export taxes. The party had also promised Right to Pension and Right to Health, among other policies.