It’s no more skirmishes now. It’s war. And as an army changes its whole thinking process on the eve of war, the same is true for the Indian National Congress. However, if you have not heard of any of these, you are probably not the only one. The preparations are being done with as little hullabaloo as possible.
The preparations are different this time around. Prashant Kishore and the likes have been sidelined. Instead, an advisory bank of the sorts is being created both at the state and national level. This bank is taking opinion and recommendations from workers and sympathisers from all across the country. These ideas are then discussed by experts who look for specific solutions to the problems. A new synergy has developed between Congress War Room and its Input Section, something that was completely missing in the past. They, in turn, are under the scrutiny of a core group. Sources say that Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi is personally taking care of the entire exercise. A detailed road map for the future is being prepared; the goal of which is to win 2019 polls.
It all started after the debacle of Uttar Pradesh polls. Addressing the five-member core group, Mrs Gandhi had said that the party needs to not only study the tenure of UPA, but also needs to scrutinise the follies of NDA. “We need to bring a programme based on this study; a programme that has a clear vision for an alternative model of governance.”
This model, in her words, would assure Congress’s return. A cell has been formed under the leadership of Ghulam Nabi Azad. This cell has two primary goals. The first goal is to revamp Congress in such a way that the party does not need any help in coming back to power. The second is to formulate a people-oriented programme, and then implement it when in power. The road map looks impressive. If the recommendations are sincerely followed, there’s a chance that we will see a revamped and ascended Congress in the year 2019. This new Congress shall have new norms, updated concepts, better programming for the future and an ideology that is linked with the demands of common people.
This new Congress will be in the hands of Rahul Gandhi, while Sonia and her core group will take a back seat. This core group shall be more concerned with policy formulation and long-term planning than day-to-day dealing of the party. The new arrangement, however, does not mean that Rahul Gandhi shall be the Prime Minister. Sources say that if the party wins in 2019, Dr Manmohan Singh shall be one of the choices. He is followed by P Chidambaram. Congress is also planning to rope in exgovernor of RBI Raghuram Rajan. It is expected that Rahul Gandhi shall be given a rather small role in the government to start with.
The primary goal of the cell led by Ghulam Nabi Azad is to revamp Congress in such a way that the party does not need outside help any help in coming back to power
This process of revitalisation has started with the preparations for organisational polls. Technically speaking, the party has been ducking the question of organisational polls for six years by appealing to the Election Commission that there’s a chance that its membership will increase, and that is why it is continuing with the membership drive. Now this has stopped. While its membership has not seen the spike that BJP had shown, the party looks all set for the organisational polls. To adopt a complete democratic process, the party is willing to change some of its norms. The ultimate aim of these elections is to pave way for the accession of Rahul Gandhi. Rahul after all has said time and again that he will like to be the president through party polls, in a democratic way. The message has been sent to top brasses and workers alike that the elections shall be through democratic process. Any group that ends up being under-represented shall be accommodated through nominations. However, these nominations shall be minimal.
The question arises as to why is Congress coming out of stupor now? Everyone is watching their moves closely, but none more acutely than BJP. Congress watchers maintain that while there is no need for organisational reshuffle, the norms set by the Election Commission can’t be ignored beyond a point. However, there is indeed a sense of urgency here as polls could have taken place next year. Every move has a meaning now. Nothing remains uncalculated. There’s a belief that if organisational polls are conducted next month, the benefit shall be reaped in Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan assembly elections as well as the next Lok Sabha polls.
There has been a widespread convention about Congress that it does not need to do anything, and that it gets to form the government every once in a while merely by default. When it comes to power it is more by opposition’s weakness and less by its own merit. However, the party has decided to learn from both its mistakes, as well as Narendra Modi’s ruthlessness. “The ethos has changed. There is a need to change the way organisation and government is run. The Congress leadership and its president agree to this,” concedes Ghulam Nabi Azad.
What Azad wants to say is that there is a massive scope of change in the Congress, and the party is seriously considering the options. This will be visible soon. The party has also decided that the culture of indecisiveness and dithering shall have to be done away with. There needs to be a sense of confidence while taking steps.
Postponement shall be a thing of the past, and that’s why Rahul Gandhi’s accession can’t be postponed any further. This shall, some say, be followed by a Margdarshak Mandal of sorts for senior leaders. Azad points out that the victory in DUSU polls is indicative of the fact that changes are bearing fruits. Accession of Sushmita Deb as head of Mahila Congress should also be seen in the same light. The idea is to strengthen the ancillary organisations.
Congress watchers maintain that the party has suffered from ad hocism. The leadership is always afraid of solid actions as it might generate factionalism or split in the party.
As far as the day-to-day dealings is concerned, the Congress Party has decided to learn from both its mistakes, as well as Narendra Modi’s ruthlessness
However, things are changing, and fast. With a few exceptions here and there the party supremo is taking stringent actions without dithering. Mrs Gandhi time and again points out how Amit Shah and Narendra Modi take stringent actions. She, however, has added that if Robert Vadra is hounded by the government, she will keep the party away from this.
There is a sense of jubilation among its cadres. Cadres say that they are happy with the proposed changes, but they will be fully satisfied if the party imbibes the culture of taking the responsibility for defeats and debacles, and starts punishing people for their incompetency. Sources say that in the next convention, Ruthless Kick-Heel will replace ad hocism in party’s charter.
The question arises, why is the party enthused about stringent norms? Says journalist and Congress watcher Vinod Sharma, “Many of the changes are organic. However, the decision to do away with dithering is definitely new.”
He further explains that there has not been any good news for the cadres since the accession of Rahul Gandhi as party’s VP. The party has been reduced to 44 seats in the Lok Sabha. However, it is widely believed by the cadres that if Rahul Gandhi is made the president, the party will perform well in Rajasthan polls on account of renewed enthusiasm. Says party leader Anil Shastri, “We require keeping this tempo till 2019 polls. We need to take everyone together and make collective decisions to win the elections.”
What has brought this change? Why is suddenly everyone, including BJP, giving so much importance to Rahul Gandhi? Some say that this is because BJP failed to defeat Ahmed Patel in Gujarat in spite of all sorts of abominable dealings. BJP has put forward Arun Jaitley as a countermeasure to this enthused Congress.
Other parties are also keeping a close watch on this battle. Atul Kumar Anjan, CPI leader, says, “BJP was given a landslide majority. Had it wanted, it could have taken the economy to an unprecedented high. It could have remained undefeated for 15 years at least. But it faltered in every department. Each of its historic steps has turned out to be either damp squibs or total disaster. The party is on the decline. Even RSS has said that it will meet the same fate as UPA did. While it can still introduce corrective measures, it lacks the will. Its economic achievement is zero. There’s a sense of disappointment among people. It will have to pay in the next polls.”
“Shah’s boast that the party will be in power for 50 years has been punctured by Sharad Pawar. There is a widespread discontent on the economy front. Voters will repay this. There’s a need for opposition unity. Naturally, Congress’s role as the main opposition party will be crucial. But it needs to do away with the arrogance and bring everyone together. Its role will increase in the coming days, but it needs to first mend its own house,” he added in good measure.
No doubt Congress’s role will be of a guardian. It is getting clear that the role of regional parties will increase in 2019 polls. New outfits are either cropping up or have already cropped up. It is possible that BJP will encourage this trend in order to split opposition votes, and mount a comeback.
Then there’s the whole issue of winnable candidates. Sources inside BJP maintain that as many as 60 per cent of MPs will not be repeated. They will be replaced with new faces. Prime Minister Modi has sort of given a go-ahead on this culling exercise. BJP has successfully hoodwinked voters in Ahmedabad local body polls and MCD polls in Delhi through this measure. It is confident that it can repeat the act in 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well. However, this has not gone all smoothly. It had to lose Bawana seat bypoll in Delhi, apart from small mutinies here and there.
PM’s popularity has also plateaued. New faces will be required to tide over the economic disaster India is going through. That is if it does not aggravate further. However, the question arises as to what will happen to those 60 per cent MPs who will be shown the door. They will definitely find takers in other parties. They can also come up with their own regional outfits. There’s the scope there. The farmers’ discontent itself can give birth to several regional outfits. BJP’s clandestine support to regional outfits would be a political move. However, how rational shall it be, is anyone’s guess.
Unlike the resolutions passed in the previous sessions that were hardly noticed, leave alone followed; the new one will be considered as a political commandment
Congress will also see upheaval. Rahul’s Congress will go hard on “fresh blood”. Many from the Congress’s Old Guards will be slighted. These people know that they don’t have future in the party. They will start defecting. Many of these leaders have monetary wherewithal to start their own outfits as well. In Madhya Pradesh, Aslam Sher Khan has already floated an outfit. Same is true with Odisha where Congress leaders are fed up with being out of power, and are looking for a new option. Narayan Rane’s resignation in Maharashtra is along the same line. What is interesting is that pro-BJP corporate houses are ready to fund such parties.
Coming back to the new political resolution that is going to be passed in the upcoming national convention of Congress; it is being said that senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily and half a dozen other leaders are working on the initial draft.
Unlike the resolutions passed in the previous sessions, this one can be considered as a political commandment. It has been categorically told by Sonia Gandhi to Moily and his team that this resolution should be so all-encompassing, and should be considered as some sort of a “Blue Book” for the future generations of office-bearers in the party. The draft should reflect the needs of the time, and include new ways of working. It should offer new political and economic ideology and mode of governance to the people so that they can contrast it with those by the current dispensation.
This shall have clear goals and agenda for students, youths and farmers. There shall be a clear road map to generate new job opportunities. Congress will also continue to demand for 33 per cent reservation for women in the elected bodies. This is Sonia Gandhi’s dream, and this will continue to be in the agenda till the time it is passed.
While it is not the first time that such a draft resolution is being prepared inside Congress; this is surely after a very long time that a resolution is being prepared with eyes on the upcoming polls. Also, this one is going to be relevant for a very long time. Congress knows that it will be difficult for the BJP to score a clear mandate like this time. In fact, Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi wrote a letter to PM Modi asking him to make use of the brute majority inside the House to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill. Congress leader Manish Tewari says that the letter is indicative of party’s commitment to the cause of the emancipation of women. He adds that the letter is also pointing out to Modi that he will not get such a brute majority ever again.
It is not only the Congress that is thinking along these lines. BJP’s parental organisation RSS is also of the similar belief. On the face of it, it does look all hunky-dory between RSS and BJP, but the insiders are talking about differences. While RSS praised government’s stand at Doklam; there were some awkward moments for BJP chief Amit Shah at RSS’s three-day convention at Vrindavan. While Shah was seated at the back, he had to keep listening to barrage after barrage of complaints from speakers who were angry with the government over several issues from Kashmir to the state of economy to Rohingya refugees. The message reached the destined audience, and Arun Jaitley admitted that the economy was in bad shape and needs stimulus. Rajnath Singh on the other hand has started the process of deporting Rohingyas, as well as wooing Kashmiri separatists.
The Congress has seen the breach, and is ready to barge in. Unlike in the past, it is ready this time.