Congress plans agitation to mark Gandhi Jayanti: Party must introspect on factionalism, lack of cadre base before taking on BJP
The Congress received a big jolt after Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post of party president following its debacle at the Lok Sabha elections 2019.
Ahead of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress party has drawn up a huge to-do list aimed at tackling the BJP.
On paper, it sounds nothing short of a revolution that the party is aiming to unleash.
However, the party must carry out some serious introspection before taking on the Narendra Modi-led government.
Ahead of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress party has drawn up a huge to-do list aimed at tackling the BJP. On paper, it sounds nothing short of a revolution that the party is aiming to unleash.
To mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi has chalked out a nationwide massive agitation on the economic slowdown. In a letter to party leaders and workers, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary KC Venugopal has mentioned an action plan in this regard.
To give a fillip to the agitation – planned between 15 and 25 October, the action plan has prescribed a large-scale membership drive, contact programmes at the grassroots level through (yet-to-be-appointed) coordinators, communicating with the youth on issues of nationalism, secularism, ongoing political discourse and false propaganda by the BJP and last, building up of leadership.
The party has called a meeting of Pradesh Congress Committees’ (PCCs) delegates and presidents of District Congress Committees (DCCs) on 30 September to give a final shape to the movement by creating a campaign plan down to the booth level.
However, it would be worthwhile if the party used the honourable occasion of Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary to carry out some serious introspection before taking on the Narendra Modi-led government. The party needs to understand that jargon like ‘building leadership’, ‘communication’ and ‘connecting to the grassroots’ sounds hollow when workers are in complete disarray due to factionalism, infighting and the lack of strong leaders at the state and district levels.
A case in point is Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh, which, for quite some time, has been witnessing a major feud over the selection of the PCC chief. Despite having a list of leaders, the Congress high command hasn’t been able to finalise the candidate to lead the party in the state. After the name of Jyotiraditya Scindia — who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Guna — came up for the coveted post, leaders of various factions attempted to block him and present themselves as suitable candidates. This was followed by a series of allegations and counter-allegations. Matters reached such a pass that Scindia virtually threatened to "seek other options" if not selected.
The ongoing infighting and chaos within the Madhya Pradesh Congress is a reflection of the state of the party across the country, and the diminishing authority of the Gandhi family. A similar scenario is being witnessed in states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
The action plan has spoken about the need for a membership drive and communicating with the youth. But does the party have answers on the large-scale exits of its leaders and workers, many of whom joined the BJP, the party against whom the agitation is targeted?
Consider Maharashtra, where Assembly elections are around the corner. There has been an exodus of leaders from the state Congress – including Bollywood actor and 2019 Lok Sabha election candidate (Mumbai North) Urmila Matondkar, former Mumbai Congress chief Kripashankar Singh, former leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, senior Congressmen Harshavardhan Patil and Abdul Sattar, to name a few.
Given the situation, what can inspire new blood to join the fledgling party?
The party received a big jolt after Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post of Congress president following the party's debacle at the Lok Sabha elections 2019. Following his resignation, uncertainty prevailed for more than 70 days till Sonia Gandhi was brought in as interim president. But even this hasn't helped the Congress much, as the rot in the party had begun developing much earlier.
A Congress worker said on the condition of anonymity, “We’ve been asked to undertake door-to-door campaigning to increase members, and also to contact youth and communicate the party’s views on important issues. But the problem arises when we are being counter-questioned about factionalism, leadership problems, the party’s views on nationalism, etc.”
On similar lines, another party worker from Gwalior said, “We faced a backlash when Article 370 was abrogated and there were contrarian views on the issue aired by our party leaders. The party should have taken a clear position on it. This is alienating the youth from us today.”
The Congress had launched agitations invoking Mahatma Gandhi ahead of the Lok Sabha election as well. Rahul Gandhi, on Gandhi Jayanti last year, had launched an all-out offensive against the Narendra Modi-led government at Wardha, and had called the prime minister a "liar."
Despite the agitation, the party had lost badly in the election.
The AICC letter sent by KC Venugopal recently mentions the need for involvement of all the frontal organisations, so that the membership campaign can be taken up in all corners of the country.
However, does the Congress have any answer on why it failed to rejuvenate the Seva Dal, one of its frontal organisations? The original role of the Seva Dal, which was founded in 1924, was to connect the top leadership with the ground-level workers.
The grand old party of India does not realise that over the years, it has failed to connect with people at the grassroots. The toughest challenge from the BJP that the Congress faced during successive elections was at the grassroots level. The BJP’s increasing electoral success has been due its strong and committed cadre, backed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) strong links with the voters and party workers. On the other hand, the Congress didn’t nurture the Seva Dal and over the decades, it turned into just another body of the AICC.
According to the action plan, the PCCs are tasked with identifying party functionaries as ‘Chief Resource Persons’ (training coordinators), who will provide training to party workers at the state, district and block levels for taking the movement against the ruling dispensation at the Centre forward. But given the ongoing infighting, will the PCCs be able to fulfil the task?
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