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Can Congress re-invent itself at all?
Can the 85th plenary of the Congress party which is underway at Raipur help the 127-year-old party re-invent itself? Will it take the revolutionary decision of giving up the vintage habit of "crawling" before the Gandhi family, and rise like a phoenix? Will the old guard Congress leaders allow such a new look and feel of the party to take shape? First and foremost, will Rahul and Sonia tell the AICC leaders to set aside their differences and find ways to revive the party?
Can the 85th plenary of the Congress party which is underway atRaipur help the 127-year-old party re-invent itself? Will it take the revolutionary decision of giving up the vintage habit of "crawling" before the Gandhi family, and rise like a phoenix? Will the old guard Congress leaders allow such a new look and feel of the party to take shape? First and foremost, will Rahul and Sonia tell the AICC leaders to set aside their differences and find ways to revive the party?
Well, a cursory look at the way the plenary session has begun makes it clear that such re-invention will never happen. It will not happen because the old guards don't want to allow the party to fly to freedom and assess the present situation and come up with right answers. They give an impression (by looks) that they are intellectuals but since the inputs they get – or shall we say they receive – are not correct, the output in form of strategies never succeeds.
Several pre-plenary strategy sessions were held to discuss the agenda and it was decided that the focus of the plenary session would be to prepare a road map for the Assembly elections this year and the Lok Sabha elections in 2024 and talk about Bharat Jodi Yatra.
Around 1,800 elected and co-opted AICC delegates (former MLAs, MPs, and party officials) will be attending the event to discuss key matters of policy and electoral tactics. Over 9,000 Pradesh Congress Committee delegates and 3,000 co-opted delegates will be present at the event. The major question is whether there is any shrewd leader who knows how to tap experience and bin the rest.
The focus of each leader's speech would veer around the Bharat Jodo Yatra of new-look Baba Rahul. While one should appreciate that he walked all the way from Kerala to Kashmir, the question is how the party gained from it. Did it at least help in Congress Jodo? In fact, in places like Rajasthan and Telangana, bigger cracks surfaced. We have seen how the "Senior" TPCC leaders revolted.
Congress cannot be re-invented because all leaders work with the presumption that Gandhis cannot be touched. This very thought puts limitations on their thought process and they refuse to free themselves from the old school of thought that opposition parties do not win elections, governments lose them.
Leader after leader will gloat over the party's victory in Himachal Assembly elections last year. But they will hardly refer to the electoral setbacks in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Gujarat. The party will not talk of how gloomy 2022 continued to be and how to come out of it. But 'Yes," they will as usual demand that 'Rahul ji Sangarsh Karo, Hum aapke Saath hain." The Congress party since 2014 has been only in Sangarsh mode and never came out of it and does not appear to be moving in the direction of overcoming organisational numbness.
There will be lectures on how Modi government is favouring a few corporates like Adanis. There will be lectures on how corruption has become rampant in the country. But no one will mention that Congress speaking about corruption does not sit so well on their lips. They will discuss about many issues but will not discuss about the new voters who would be exercising their franchise for the first time. It is estimated that there are over 8 or 9 crore new voters. How to win over a section of them will not be discussed by the old brigade as they feel that strategies are secrets and should not be revealed from such platforms.
Insiders feel that at the end of the plenary, there will be two faces in the party. Rahul will be the external face and AICC president Kharge the internal face. We will listen to loud statements that it will be Congress double engine strategy. Rahul will take care of Congress Jodo with people while Kharge will take care of internal matters. It now remains to be seen if the party will give absolute freedom to Kharge to take decisions to strengthen the party internally? If given such a freedom, will he utilise it or will he continue to look towards the Gandhi family for final clearance?
Another important issue which needs to be discussed by the party is about the unprecedented challenges which include threatening its primacy among the opposition parties. If the Congress can come up with at least a formula to stitch a powerful anti-BJP front ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it would be a tremendous achievement. But for that, the party first needs to handle internal dissent.
TMC, BRS and AAP appear reluctant to accept the Congress stewardship and BRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao has been holding his own parleys to rein in the BJP.
While in Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has so far not been able to take on the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan whose popularity has been growing. It also could not contain the RSS from strengthening its base there. In Rajasthan, the party is riddled with infighting and there is tendency among people to vote for rival party every five years.
The actual plenary for the delegates will start on the morning of 25 February (Saturday). If the Congress can come up with a clear-cut road map to counter the Modi government on issues like unemployment, inflation etc., to some extent one can claim that the plenary has been successful. If the leaders choose to speak more and more about Bharat Jodo Yatra and its "success," well then, perhaps, even God cannot save Congress.
It will only help them in boasting that 15,000 people attended, 6000 hotel rooms and 4,000 flats of Chhattisgarh housing board were booked, sumptuous lunch was served and a five-bed hospital and multiple mobile medical units have been put in place for the event.
But, if the Congress can utilise its energies to sharpen its tactics to mobilise its cadre and chart out a proper approach towards the elections and cross-party coordination more, then there is still a possibility that it can improve its position in Lok Sabha. It would be of no use if leader after leader indulges in Modi bashing and go back without achieving anything.