By: Dipak Kurmi
The Congress Plenary held in Raipur will be remembered more for what did not occur rather than what did. This is primarily due to the absence of the Congress Working Committee elections, which most Congress leaders were anticipating as a natural progression after the party President elections. Some leaders had even expressed their desire to contest the polls for the 12 elected seats out of the 24. However, instead of conducting elections, the Congress panel passed a resolution urging Mallikarjun Kharge, the recently elected party chief, to nominate the entire CWC. Additionally, the resolution also included an amendment guaranteeing that former party chiefs, prime ministers, and leaders of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha receive a permanent place in the committee.
There is a disagreement regarding the decision not to hold Congress Working Committee (CWC) elections, with some arguing that it would be unwise to do so considering the upcoming state elections and the 2024 General Election. On the other hand, some have pointed out that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Parliamentary Board, which is supposed to be the party’s highest decision-making body similar to the CWC, is also nominated and not elected. As a result, it is debatable whether the Congress made a significant mistake in not conducting CWC elections.
The decision not to conduct Congress Working Committee (CWC) elections has left some uncertainty as to whether the party made the right choice. Previously, the Congress had emphasized its uniqueness in holding elections for the party chief post, but the absence of CWC elections may create an awkward situation for party leaders claiming a moral high ground. In other words, the (non) CWC polls could detract from the legitimacy of the party’s presidential elections and may be seen as an incomplete circle.
One of the issues with the Congress Plenary was the lack of a sufficient counter-narrative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was noted that the Congress needs to represent more than just a successful Bharat Jodo Yatra. Some believe that Rahul Gandhi could have utilized the feedback he received from the people on the ground to create an effective manifesto or an ideology statement for the Congress. During his speech at the Plenary, Rahul focused more on the yatra as a tool for personal discovery rather than for the party, and he also placed emphasis on topics such as Adani, China, and Kashmir being “like going home”. Therefore, it was felt that the Congress was missing a clear and effective message to counter the BJP’s narrative.
It is unclear why Rahul Gandhi keeps emphasizing the idea of Kashmir being “like going home,” as this may only strengthen the Bharatiya Janata Party’s claim that the region is now safe after the revocation of Article 370. On the other hand, issues such as China and Adani are more concrete problems that the Congress could use to challenge the Modi government. However, to make the Adani issue resonate with the public at large, Rahul will need to prove that there was a direct quid pro quo between the businessman and the Prime Minister’s Office. While allegations of nepotism and crony capitalism have been made against Adani, they have not yet reached the masses. It remains to be seen whether the Adani issue will be a significant factor in upcoming state elections in Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. It should be noted that Adani was not a topic of discussion during the recent elections in the North East. The Bofors case is also cited as a cautionary tale, where allegations against Rajiv Gandhi were struck down by the Supreme Court, but the verdict came too late for both the former Prime Minister and the Congress.
The Congress’ focus on China could become a significant issue with the public, but the Prime Minister and the BJP’s response to the Congress’ charge of not safeguarding India’s borders remains to be seen. In matters of national security, the Prime Minister always manages to have the last word in narrative building. Therefore, while the Congress is correct in raising these issues and highlighting lapses, it needs to find a larger, emotive connection with the masses to counter the “one of us” sentiment that Modi shares with the 1.4 billion citizens who have wrapped a “protective shield” around him. The Congress has a long way to go before it can beat the PM in narrative building, as seen when the PM countered Rahul Gandhi’s speech in Parliament by speaking about all that he had done for the people of India and the love and protection he received in return instead of addressing the Modi-Adani connection raised by the Congress leader.
According to feedback, Shashi Tharoor, a contender for the Congress party presidency, made a more impactful speech than Rahul Gandhi or Mallikarjun Kharge at the party’s plenary. Tharoor emphasized that the Congress should have taken a stronger stance on issues such as attacks on Christian churches, murders in the name of cow vigilantism, bulldozer demolitions of Muslim homes, and the case of Bilkis Bano. He further stressed that the party should stand up for its fundamental values and for an inclusive India.
The point raised by Shashi Tharoor that the Congress should have taken a stronger stance on issues like attacks on minorities, cow vigilantism and the demolition of Muslim homes is valid. The Congress should not be afraid to speak up for minorities just to avoid angering the majority, as this goes against the party’s values. Indira Gandhi had reached out to both communities in the past, and the Congress should focus on redefining its secular credentials instead of trying to compete with the BJP on Hindutva. (The writer is a journalist and commentator based in Guwahati, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)