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Major ice-breaker but ‘main issues’ unaddressed — Congress leaders’ takeaway from Chintan Shivir

Congress' Chintan Shivir, a mega brainstorming session, ended Monday with the party adopting a declaration and pledging reform to improve its performance.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot interacts with the press at the three-day 'Chintan Shivir' in Udaipur | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot during the May 2022 'Chintan Shivir' in Udaipur | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint

Udaipur: The Congress party’s three-day Chintan Shivir was a “major ice-breaker” but whether it results in any major changes depends on the implementation of the Udaipur Nav Sankalp Declaration, some delegates who attended the event told ThePrint.

The mega brainstorming session, which ended Monday with the party adopting the declaration, was attended by approximately 450 delegates.

The declaration is significant given the party’s declining fortunes in India: having lost Punjab to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in March this year, the Congress now only has chief ministers in two states — Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan — and is a junior partner in three other states, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. 

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate, also in attendance, called the Shivir a “unique platform” for party leaders to “voice their views candidly”.

“We have come back re-energised to fight the evil forces that divide our nation. You will see new vigour and commitment from the Congress to connect with the people, take up their issues through sustainable campaigns, and make the government of the day accountable,” said Shrinate.

A young Congress functionary who was at the Shivir said that young workers were touched by the access and proximity to senior leaders, including the “G-23” (now G-21, a section of leaders seeking reform within the party). The Gandhis, especially Sonia Gandhi, were also very accessible, the functionary said.

However, some delegates that ThePrint spoke to said the resolution did not address a few major issues they had raised at the event.

A Congress MP called the exercise “cosmetic” and said the declaration “does not answer any of the questions that needed to be addressed”.

Echoing this thought, Sanjay Jha, a political analyst and former member of the Congress, said the “elephant in the room” — the question of the Gandhi leadership — remained unaddressed yet again. 

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‘Access to senior leaders’

The young Congress functionary quoted above said the access to senior Congress leadership really excited him and most of his fellow junior workers of the party.  

“During the dinner organised for us on the second day, there were separate tables arranged for everyone. Of course, we were on a table different from that of senior leaders. But Mrs [Sonia] Gandhi came to all the tables and greeted us personally,” the functionary said.

“Having that kind of access really energised me and others like me. I was just speaking to a 23-year-old from the social media department, and they felt the same. Even the G-23 leaders spoke to us.” 

However, speaking about long-term implications of the Shivir, he said whether the declaration would help in the Congress’ revival depended on the “implementation”. 

“Implementation has been where the party messes up at times. If everything in the declaration is truly implemented, then we are hopeful,” said the functionary.

A senior Congress leader, also a Lok Sabha MP, had a different take and said the resolution didn’t resolve many of the problems raised at the event. 

“On the first day, there was great camaraderie. Everyone was having tea and dinner with each other and networking with colleagues across the country. The second day, there were great deliberations, and everyone spoke freely,” the MP added. “But the final resolution adopted is a watered-down version of all the discussions we had. It is therefore unclear how much change is possible because so many of our arguments remained unresolved.”

‘Retrospective implementation’

Former Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said two clauses of the declaration in particular — the decision to have fixed five-year tenures for officebearers and the ‘one-family-one-ticket’ policy — were welcome policy changes, but these must be implemented “retrospectively” as well.

The Congress party’s ‘one-family-one-ticket’ policy means that it will have no more than one family member contesting elections.

“For example, if anybody is holding a position for four years today, they should be mandatorily made to resign after a year. If Rahul has been the Congress president for 2 years, even if he were to return, it should be only for 2-2.5 years. Same for someone like [general secretary] Randeep Surjewala,” said Jha. “That’s how you bring about change. You can’t say it will happen from today. It has to be seen happening retrospectively as well.”

Some leaders have, of their own volition, already started adopting the tenets of the declaration. On Monday, T.N. Prathapan, an MP from Kerala, resigned as the chairman of the All India Fishermen’s Congress — a position he had held since 2017.

“My decision to resign is my obedient response to the Udaipur declaration to not continue in the same party post for more than five years,” Prathapan told thePrint.

“Chintan Shivir is a big hope for us and for all Indians. Within six months there will be many good changes in the Congress. Our organisation will be strong,” he said. “The Udaipur session is a historic session in the fight to reclaim our country from fascists.”

Also Read: ‘I send people into depression,’ Ashok Gehlot counters Rahul Gandhi’s remark on senior leaders

‘The elephant in the room’

Jha expressed doubts about whether the resolution did everything to address the problems that plague the Congress — including questions concerning its first family, the Gandhis.

“Did the party really discuss threadbare where it has gone wrong? I don’t know. The elephant in the room continues to be the Gandhis,” Jha said. “I heard both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. But the question is, who takes responsibility for two Lok Sabha defeats? Who takes responsibility for losing so many leaders to the BJP and other parties?”

“Also, does it take you eight years to realise that communication is a problem?”

The MP who spoke to ThePrint anonymously said many of the clauses adopted in the resolution, including the ‘one-family-one-ticket’ rule, weren’t “the main issues”, especially because of a caveat that “disqualifies any of the dynasties within the party from coming under the ambit of the policy”.

“So, these are not important changes. A solution to things like infighting and our communication system should’ve been announced. But on these matters, the declaration was ambiguous,” said the MP.

The MP also disagreed with Rahul Gandhi’s views that regional parties “did not have an ideology”. 

“No party can exist without an ideology. Regional parties have a regional ideology that resonates with their region. At a time when most parties are unwilling to ally with us, such statements are not required,”  the MP added. “We don’t even have cadre to fill all organisational posts in some states and districts. In such a situation, the party is saying that they will fill up these vacancies in 180 days and, at the same time, othering regional parties.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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