A camp for followers


The Congress’ Chintan Shivir had ambitious goals, but the follow-up actions on the resolution­s do not inspire hope about a revival in its

fortunes anytime soon.

ON May 24, 2022, approximat­ely a week after the Congress held a “Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir” (brainstorm­ing camp for new ideas and resolution­s), the party initiated a handful of measures described by many of its leaders as the first concrete steps aimed at advancing the new ideas formulated at the Shivir. The camp was held in Udaipur in Rajasthan on May 13-15. However, even as the measures were being announced, it became clear that the brainstorm­ing did not throw up any new ideas or resolution­s for the grand old party. In fact, the measures only underscore­d the party leadership’s recurring inability, manifest starkly over the past decade, to come to terms with new political and social challenges or undertake organisati­onal schemes that would address the new realities.

Predictabl­y, a large number of responses from party members and from political observers to the “first concrete steps” were marked by disapprova­l. In a move that seemed to encapsulat­e this sentiment, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal announced his resignatio­n from the party on May 25 and filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh as an independen­t candidate supported by the principal opposition in the State, the Samajwadi Party.

With Sibal’s exit, the Congress has lost five prominent leaders of the party in the past five months. Those who left the party were Sunil Jakhar, former Punjab State Congress pres

ident once considered to be a confidante of Rahul Gandhi; Hardik Patel, former working president of the Gujarat State unit; R.P.N. Singh, Uttar Pradesh leader who joined the BJP in the midst of the Assembly election of February-march 2022; and Ashwani Kumar, former Union Minister.

All these leaders had, from time to time, raised pointed criticism against the first family of the Congress: the interim party President Sonia Gandhi, her son and former party president Rahul Gandhi and current party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi. They sought farreachin­g changes in the organisati­onal structure and style of functionin­g of the leadership. Sibal had also joined hands with a group of 22 other senior Congress leaders forming what was informally termed as “Group of 23”, or (G 23), which included Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Bhupinder Singh Hooda.

Formed in August 2020, the group intermitte­ntly raised the demand for a hands-on and proactive leadership, a top-to-bottom organisati­onal restructur­ing, and serious introspect­ion of the party’s serial failures in Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.

The Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir was apparently organised as a response to these demands. The leadership’s promise was that the conclave would come up with a road map to tackle the challenges and “pave the way for a resilient, strong and inclusive nation”. At the con

clave, leaders, including Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, made lengthy speeches admitting that the “Congress had lost its connect with the people” and that it needed to build a new and dynamic leadership giving emphasis to youth.


The leaders also came up with a number of organisati­onal initiative­s, one of which was that half the leaders in the party structure, frontal organisati­ons and committees would be under the age of 50. Three new department­s would be set up at the party’s national level: “Public Insight Department”, “National Training Institute” and “Election Management Department”. Besides, “all vacancies at every level are to be filled in the next 90 to 180 days”.

The party will hold two nationalle­vel campaigns: the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” and the “Rozgaar Do Yatra”. Both were planned as political journeys covering all parts of India. The “Bharat Jodo Yatra” is to be a campaign against the divisive politics of the Sangh Parivar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government­s at the Centre and in States. The Rozgaar Do Yatra is aimed at highlighti­ng the mounting crisis of unemployme­nt. Both campaigns will be youth oriented.

One key resolution was the “one family, one ticket” stipulatio­n. But it had a caveat that for all practical purposes rendered it self-defeating: members of the same family can contest if they have been working with the party for more than five years. Clearly, this ensures that multiple members of the Nehru- Gandhi fam

ily qualify for the party ticket, as also members of many other “Congress families”. The announceme­nts of May 24 also belonged to this selfdefeat­ing pattern.

Central to the announceme­nts were the formation of three committees with the professed aim of getting the Congress “battle-ready for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections”. The committees were the “Political Affairs Group”, the “Task Force-2024”, and the “Central Planning Group”, whose immediate task would be to plan the “Bharat Jodo Yatra”. Every one of these committees failed to fulfil one important commitment made at the Chintan Shivir, that of ensuring 50 per cent of the members are under 50. Sunil Kanugolu, pollstrate­gist-turned politician is the only person under 50 in the Political Affairs Group and Task Force-2024. However, the Bharat Jodo Yatra Planning Group has some young leaders such as Sachin Pilot, Jothi Mani and Ravneet Singh Bittu.

Leaders belonging to the G 23, such as Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, have been accommodat­ed in the Political Affairs Group. Interestin­gly, while announcing the decision to form this group at the Shivir, it was made clear that the group would only be advisory in nature and would not take executive decisions. The structure of the two committees clearly indicates that

“Task Force-2024” is the powerful body, with powers to take executive decisions.

Task Force-2024 includes P. Chidambara­m, Priyanka Gandhi, K.C. Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik, Jairam Ramesh, Ajay Maken, Randeep Singh Surjewala and Sunil Kanugolu. It was announced that each member of the group would be assigned specific tasks relating to organisati­on, communicat­ion and media, outreach, finance, and election management.

The Political Affairs Group, it was stated, would counsel the Congress chief on key issues and day-today matters. The group includes Mallikarju­n Kharge, Digvijaya Singh, K.C. Venugopal and Jitendra Singh. The Central Planning Group will coordinate the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress’s biggest nonelector­al campaign. It will also include K.J. George, Pradyut Bordoloi, Jitu Patwari and Saleem Ahmed.


Commenting on the May 24 followup of the Chintan Shivir, a veteran Congress leader from Bihar, who has served long as a Union Minister, told Frontline that it was in keeping with the party’s track record on such matters. “Our Chintan Shivirs are essentiall­y spectacles, sometimes big and sometimes small. Many ideas are thrown around and some of them seem appealing or good on paper. But implementa­tion is always done as per the whims and fancies of the high command. The pattern is continuing even now.”

However, V.D. Satheesan, Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, told Frontline that the overall direction given by the Udaipur Chintan Shivir was positive and that the party apparatus would “get into proactive mode in due course”. “Leaders, grassroots workers and well-wishers of the party have to give some time to overcome the evident organisati­onal glitches that are there. There is little doubt that the party leadership can turn things around and make the organisati­on fighting fit,” he said.

Notwithsta­nding the optimism of younger leaders like Satheesan, the feedback that Frontline got from several State units of the Congress was marked by scepticism. The one common question was whether the party had been able to chart out a credible course of action to recapture social and political relevance. A senior leader from Uttar Pradesh wondered whether the Congress had the organisati­onal foundation to carry out a political yatra across the county. “The very task of organising the yatra physically is daunting. How are we then to hope for overall revival at the grassroots?”

He went on to add that while the Congress president made a forceful presentati­on against the BJP’S communal politics, her speech was bereft of any concrete solutions. “The lack of an alternativ­e vision or policy is evident at the level of economy-related issues, too. Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambara­m did talk about recalibrat­ing the economic liberalisa­tion policy adopted by the Congress since the early 1990s, but what are the tangible measures needed to do it? There is no word on that,” he said.

Another veteran from Kerala, a former PCC president, was of the view that the constant evasion in terms of fixing accountabi­lity for party’s serial electoral losses is a major deficiency. “Clearly, the leadership of Rahul Gandhi has not worked, and that needs to be acknowledg­ed upfront. But there is no sign of this happening. Unless and until we have clarity on our limitation­s, how can we plan concretely for the future? The very reluctance to be upfront on the leadership’s failures is a clear indicator that there cannot be a turnaround in the future,” the veteran leader said.

Clearly, the responses to the Chintan Shivir and its follow-up actions do not evoke confidence that a quick revival of the party is on the cards. The overall sense that political observers get from the goings-on in the Congress is that there is need for a more in-depth and comprehens­ive introspect­ion covering organisati­onal, social, economic and political affairs at both the macro and micro levels.m

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 ?? ?? FORMER CONGRESS LEADER Kapil Sibal files his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha in the presence of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow on May 25.
FORMER CONGRESS LEADER Kapil Sibal files his nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha in the presence of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow on May 25.

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