Will Chintan Shivir lead to repeat of 2004 for Congress?

The Congress Working Committee is meeting on Monday to drive the agenda for the party’s Chintan Shivir in Udaipur. This will be fourth such Shivir during Sonia Gandhi’s presidency, with the earlier ones organised in 1998, 2003 and 2013. Only the 2003 Shivir was beneficial for the party which helped it to clinch power in 2004 for 10 years.

Ahead of the CWC meet, a meeting was held on May 3 in the Congress War Room where senior leaders Ambika Soni, Jairam Ramesh, Mukul Wasnik and party general secretary, organisation K.C. Venugopal discussed the preparations for the Chintan Shivir.

Another meeting was called the previous day under the chairmanship of former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in which the subject of agriculture was discussed.

Congress sources say that there will be open discussion in the brainstorming session but they were wary of dissenters who can be spoilers.

This Shivir is more important for the parry as it has been losing elections since 2014 except in a few states where it won. In the recent Assembly elections, the party lost in all the five states which went to the polls and was wiped out by the AAP in Punjab where the party had its government. But the real challenge for the party is to defeat the Hindutva politics which it has been unable to counter.

The party could learn from the previous shivirs. In the Pachmarhi session, Sonia Gandhi underlined the electoral defeats which she said were inevitable and are not a cause for worry. But she pointed out that what is disturbing is the loss of the social base.

The Congress was unable to devise any strategy about the coalition era which it termed to be a transient phase. But the same thing was revisited in Shimla and the party did course correction and forged alliances. Sonia Gandhi walked up to late Ram Vilas Paswan, then her next door neighbour, and adding the RJD, the Congress emerged a formidable force in Bihar.

Though the Congress could not form its own government since 1998 and after the emergence of regional powers, it is more dependent on coalitions. However, the regional parties, some of whom are splinters from the Congress, don’t want the Congress to gain ground and are directly pitted against them.

The course correction in Shimla was a rights based governance model like MGNREGA, RTE and food security and launching programmes for economic and social empowerment. The party promised political representation and legal equality to Dalits, adivasis, OBCs and minorities. The party gained power but some of the issues remained unvisited due to political differences.

Party leaders point out that the party needs a counter narrative against the Modi government, specially Hindutva laced with hyper nationalism, and the party has to derive it answers as after eight years the party is at the crossroads.

The trouble states are UP, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal where the regional parties are pitted against the Congress and the party has almost no presence in around 180 Lok Sabha seats which is a cause of concern. To get back its lost glory the party has to form alliances to be a formidable challenger in the states.

The major test will be in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year, then states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh go to the polls in 2023. These are the major states where the Congress has to perform better and win elections to pose a challenge to the BJP in the 2024 general elections.

The Congress is likely to focus on economic issues and alliances in the upcoming brainstorming session in Udaipur. The party has formed various committees which are meeting to put forth the agenda for the session.

The primary focus of the party is the economy and farmers’ issues. The party thinks that inflation is hitting the people hard. The rising prices of fuel and edible oils have disrupted household budgets and people are suffering because of price rise from flour to daily use items.

Congress spokesperson Gaurav Vallabh said: “This is the governance model of the Prime Minister that he had increased the excise duty on petrol by 200 per cent and excise duty on diesel by more than 500 per cent, but if you ask that he reduce it, he will say I can’t do that, states have to do that. So is this a governance model?”



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