After three days of ‘chintan’ in Udaipur, the Congress is as fuzzy as it was earlier on the four main challenges it faces today.
The first and foremost is the leadership issue. The shivir failed to provide an answer to the big Rahul Gandhi question. Will he or won’t he take over as party president?
If anything, the so-called brainstorming only reaffirmed the status quo in which Rahul Gandhi enjoys power without accountability as de facto president. He delivered the valedictory address, an honour usually reserved for the party chief. He will also lead the ‘Bharat Jodo’ yatra beginning in October. But Congressmen and women were left guessing whether he would step up and take charge as the boss officially so they know where the buck stops.
Avoiding the 'S' Word
The second issue on which there was no clarity despite three days of talk is ideology, or, specifically, the Congress counter to the BJP’s Hindutva push. Rahul Gandhi spoke of an ideological battle with the BJP. “The ideology of the RSS is fighting against the ideology of the Congress,” he declared in his valedictory speech.
But he gave no shape to the ideology to which he was referring. In fact, he seemed to consciously avoid the ‘S’ word – secularism – and talked instead of the Congress party’s “centralized approach”.
Rahul Gandhi’s reluctance to define his party’s ideology vis a vis Hindutva reflects the confusion within, and it is a significant omission. Reports emanating from the camp suggest that Congress leaders are deeply divided on how to tackle the BJP’s Hindutva plank. A section wants the party to launch a “Hindu outreach”, while others warned against mixing religion with politics.
The fact that Rahul Gandhi chose to remain vague on the question of ideology reflects his reluctance to take the bull by the horns and deal decisively with the vexed Hindutva issue.
Thirdly, it is quite evident that the Congress has once again failed to reclaim nationalism from the BJP.
The party that led the struggle for independence from the British and was once synonymous with nationalism has not only lost a critical emotive connection with people but has also allowed the BJP to redefine it to mean muscular majoritarianism with the exclusion of the minorities.
The issue did not figure in either Sonia Gandhi’s speech or Rahul Gandhi’s valedictory address. Clearly, the party did not even apply its mind to something that is a vital component of the BJP’s popular appeal.
Confusion Is Typical of Congress Now
Finally, in typical Congress style, the shivir ended on a note of utter confusion on the all-important question of alliances to fight the BJP in 2024. The Congress is currently part of an alliance government in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. A declaration adopted on the final day of the camp said the party is open to alliances “depending on the political situation”, suggesting that a united opposition front for the 2024 general election is very much on the table for discussion.
But Rahul Gandhi struck a discordant note by slamming regional parties and their leaders. They neither have an ideology nor a centralised approach, he said. They belong to specific castes, don’t represent everyone, and that’s why they cannot fight the BJP and only the Congress can, he declared.
Not only did his comments smack of arrogance, but they were also blatantly untrue. Because if there is any challenge to the BJP at all, it’s coming only from regional parties and not the Congress.
Some Real 'Chintan' Can Help
There is bound to be blowback to Rahul Gandhi’s thoughtless remarks, and the possibility of a united opposition front to fight Modi seems even more remote now. State satraps such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee no longer bother to hide their contempt for the Gandhi scion, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced his ambitions to replace the Congress as a national alternative to the BJP.
Rahul Gandhi has a habit of spreading consternation and dismay in his party by going off at a tangent every now and then. He’s done it again with his attack on regional parties, which many believe was unprovoked and uncalled for at this point in time when Modi and the BJP are riding high after their successes in the recent state elections.
The noises emanating from the Udaipur shivir must sound like music to Modi’s ears. For most Congress leaders, it proved to be just another inconclusive meeting, leaving them wondering how to handle the elephant in the room, Rahul Gandhi.
(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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