Congress President Sonia Gandhi has once again taken upon herself the onerous task of putting the Congress in revival mode. Soon after taking a plunge in politics in 1998, when the Congress ship was sinking, she really managed to revive the Congress. In as many as 10 States, the Congress stormed back to power and the Congress-led UPA Government was formed at the Centre in 2004 and in 2009.
Now, once again, when the political fortunes of the Congress have dipped to an all-time low, Sonia Gandhi has again come forward to bring about a turnaround. After a string of electoral drubbings since 2014, Sonia Gandhi, with single-minded devotion and commitment, is making a determined bid for Congress Revival at the national level.
The longest-serving Congress President in the annals of the party, having served for 22 years, Sonia Gandhi is also the first leader to face such grave challenges to the very identity and existence of the Congress. With little or no help, she has single-handedly brought about a turnaround in the party’s political fortunes. She, once again, faces the litmus test. Indefatigable and deeply committed to and symbolizing the Congress Ethos and Ideology, Sonia Gandhi is virtually working a miracle.
Essentiallly, the Congress has to claim the Opposition space, before it can take on the Modi Establishment.
The first step in the direction is the Brainstorming Session, or Nav Sankalp Chintan-Shivir, being organized in Udaipur in Rajasthan from May 13-15, 2022. The attempt is to help the party men and women get clarity on party ideology, party policy and party programme.
Sonia Gandhi wants that a Blueprint, or Action Plan for Congress Revival, must emerge out of the Brainstorming Session. That is what is expected to help the Congress in the Assembly elections later in 2022 and 2023, as also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024.
This assumes significance, as the Congress has not sought refuge in some poll strategist. Many political parties outsourced election management to election strategist Prashant Kishore, including BJP, TMC, YSRCP, TRS, DMK and AAP.
Instead, Sonia Gandhi is determined to initiate remedial measures and work on her own steam for the Congress Revival at the national level and to fight elections on the basis of her political ethos she inherited from none other than her own mother-in-law Indira Gandhi.
An estimated 422 office-bearers of the Congress from various levels, like AICC, PCCs, Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), Congress Legislature Party (CLP) and frontal organizations, are attending the Brainstorming Session. Fifty per cent of the delegates are below 50 years of age and 40 per cent of the delegates are below 40 years of age. Nearly 21 per cent delegates are women. So, it represents a healthy mix of experience and young blood that is required for the Congress Revival at the national level.
The Chintan-Shivir in Udaipur will kickstart with the Inaugural Address of Congress President Sonia Gandhi on May 13. Focus in the Chintan-Shivir will be on the themes identified by Sonia Gandhi. Themes-wise, subgroups have been formed on Political Situation; Social Justice & Empowerment; Economy; Organization; Farmers & Agriculture; and Youth & Empowerment. On May 15, the Chintan-Shivir will end with the Concluding Remarks of Rahul Gandhi, which will be followed by the Adoption of the Udaipur Nav Sankalp Declaration.
This is seen as an important step for the Congress to pitch for an Alternative Policy and Alternative Vision for the nation, which is distinct from the one represented by the present political dispensation.
The Congress has the BJP as the rival political pole. But it is the regional outfits, like the AAP, TRS, YSRCP, BJD and TMC, the fencesitters, who are ready to jump on to the side of the Saffron Brigade, blurring the lines. That only leaves the Congress, occupying the Opposition space, which has to shoulder greater responsibility.
Sonia Gandhi Mantra
In her opening remarks at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in the Capital on May 9, Sonia Gandhi said, “I request your full cooperation in ensuring that the single over-riding message that goes forth loud and clear from Udaipur is one of unity, cohesion, determination and commitment to our party’s accelerated revival. There are no magic wands. It is only with selfless work, discipline and a sense of consistent collective purpose that we will demonstrate our tenacity and resilience. The party has been central to the life of each and every one of us. It has expected our total allegiance and has been good to each and every one of us. Now, when we are at a crucial juncture, it is imperative that we step forward and repay our debt to the party in full measure.” There is message in it for the G-23 leaders.
Acknowledging that self-criticism is, of course, needed in party fora, she said, this, however, should not be done in a manner that erodes self-confidence and morale and an atmosphere of gloom and doom prevails. This was her pointed message to G-23 leaders, who tried to rattle the Congress.
“To the contrary, we are beholden to put our heads together and together, collectively overcome the challenges that face us. This requires that the Chintan-Shivir does not become a ritual, something we must just get through. I am determined that it should herald a restructured organization to meet the many ideological, electoral and managerial tasks we confront,” she said.
Sonia Gandhi also spoke of an amendment to the Congress Constitution. This is to do with Digital Membership of the party.
Originally, Indira Gandhi had held the Brainstorming Session in Narora in Uttar Pradesh from November 22-24, 1974, to firm up the political and economic policy and the pro-poor stand of the Congress.
It was in Narora Camp, in which Indira Gandhi positioned the Congress as a pro-poor party.
Indira Gandhi emerged as the icon of Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities and Women. As a result, these sections became the mainstay of the Congress support base.
Taking a cue from Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi organized the Brainstorming Session in Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh that concluded on September 4-6, 1998.
In her Inaugural Address in Panchmarhi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi set the tone. Sonia Gandhi acknowledged that the Congress had not successfully accommodated the aspirations of a whole new generation of Dalits, Adivasis and people belonging to the Backward Classes, particularly in the Northern States. Sonia Gandhi surmised that this failure was one reason for the decline of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This, in turn, had done great damage to the standing of the Congress in the national-level politics.
Significantly, Sonia Gandhi remarked, “Electoral reverses are inevitable and are, in themselves, not cause for worry. But what is disturbing is the loss of our social base, of the social coalition that supports us and looks up to us.”
To overcome this, she proposed that the Congress take the social justice movement to its next phase, one that stressed “basic issues of health, education, food security, nutrition and family planning.”
The Panchmarhi Declaration made it clear that the Coalition Era is temporary, passing phase. But in the short-term, if the party has to forge Alliance, it will do so without compromising on the basic ideology of the Congress.
In December, 1998, at the AICC Session, the Congress Constitution was amended to provide 33 per cent Reservation of Party Posts for SCs, STs, OBCs, Minorities and Women.
The Shimla Chintan-Shivir was held from July 7-9, 2003, where the Shimla Sankalp was adopted. It was very special and significant, as the Congress reiterated that it was ready for Alliance, without, however, compromising on the basic ideology of the Congress.
The Shimla Sankalp declared, “Consistent with the decision taken in Panchmarhi in 1998, the Congress party is prepared to enter into pre- and post-electoral arrangements with other parties, on the basis of a principled programme, without in anyway compromising with the basic principles and policies of the Congress party.”
Armed with the Shimla Sankalp, Congress President Sonia Gandhi in 2004, picked up the phone and dialed the then DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi. Sonia Gandhi walked down to 12, Janpath in the Capital to meet Ram Vilas Paswan. Sonia thus laid the foundation for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which came into being as a post-poll conglomerate in 2004, dislodging the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
All Eyes On Sonia
All eyes are once again on Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Like in the past, will she pull it off again? Unlike other parties, Sonia Gandhi has shown no inclination for outsourcing party’s election work. To that extent, she has demonstrated political maturity.
Sonia Gandhi has initiated a step-by-step process to rebuild the party and to make it fighting-fit for elections. Trained at the hands of her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi may pull it off, yet again, leaving her detractors and critics high and dry.
(Views expressed in the article are personal.)