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It's 'Brand Nationalism' as Congress Kicks Off Chintan Shivir With Plans of Better Marketing

Positing its fight as one against the BJP-RSS's 'pseudo-nationalism', the party on day one also kept youth participation at the front and centre.
Congress leaders at day one of the Chintan Shivir in Udaipur on May 13. Photo: Twitter/@INCIndia
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Udaipur: The Congress on Friday, May 13, kicked off its Chintan Shivir or brainstorming camp by asserting its brand of nationalism against that of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“It is the Congress party that adheres to the Indian path of rejecting all extremes. This is a fight between Indian nationalists and pseudo-nationalists,” senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge said to the press.. 

Terming the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh brand of nationalism “fake”, Kharge said that the Narendra Modi regime has seen “unprecedented attacks at the core of our nation’s constitutional values, institutional integrity, federal character and civilisational legacy.”

At the same time, he added that the Congress represents “the Indian way of life and thought that has sustained this civilization for 3,000 years.”

The three-day event, called “Nav Sankalp” was planned after the party’s poll debacle in the recently-concluded assembly elections in five states. The event is also an acknowledgement of the fact that Congress is facing its worst crisis in its over a century-old history.

Around 450 delegates from across the country, 50% of whom are below 40 years of age, are participating in it. Six panels have been created to address manifold challenges the party is facing, with the steep rise of its primary rival BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The most crucial problem of its leadership crisis and a rudderless election strategy will also be discussed in the party. 

Reporters watch the virtual address of Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi during the party’s Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir, in Udaipur, Friday, May 13, 2022. Photo: PTI

Senior leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge, Ajay Maken, and Ashok Gehlot suggested that the party has survived multiple crises in history, and the brainstorming session will find ways to overcome the current crisis too. While accusing the ruling BJP of precipitating a crisis on multiple fronts like economy, national security, and democratic standards, Congress leaders spoke about the need to publicise impactful legislations introduced by its previous regimes, like RTI, Right to Education, MGNREGS, Food Security Act.

Addressing the delegates, Rajasthan chief minister Gehlot said, “Our greatest weakness is that we worked constantly when we were in power but never did proper marketing of our achievements. The BJP never works but still turns something like the ‘Gujarat model’ into a brand.”

“All of these challenges and how the Congress will respond to it politically and organisationally will be discussed and deliberated at the Chintan Shivir over the next couple of days,” Kharge, who is the convenor of one of the six panels, said.

Also read: Central Leadership Gets a Bad Rap, But the Roots of Congress’s Problems Lie in States

He added that the “political challenge” before the Congress is “five-fold”.  

“First, we have to retrieve our rich legacy and heritage to inspire the youth. Second, we need to redefine our ideology to reassure our party workers and supporters. Third, we have to reaffirm our commitment to the constitution, of ensuring liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, the federal structure, the poorest and the most oppressed in society. Fourth, we have to reclaim the Indian way of life and what it means to be an Indian. Fifth, we need to reinvent our politics to transform the party, society and the nation, including politics as a form of social service, how we connect to the people on issues that matter to them, how we raise funds from the people, how we tackle lies and distortions, and how we can lead initiatives that bring people together,” the senior leader said. 

Congress members at a panel on day one of the Chintan Shivir in Udaipur on May 13. Photo: Twitter/@INCIndia

Each of the Congress leaders who spoke asserted that Congress’s nationalist character needs to be projected with greater strength.

“The history of Independent India is written with the blood and sacrifice of Congressmen and our leaders who protected the territorial integrity of India. Mahatma Gandhi, Indira ji, Rajiv ji, S. Beant Singh, Vidya Charan Shukla, Nand Kumar Patel and lakhs of others laid down their lives fighting against colonialism, terrorism and Naxalism,” Kharge said, lashing out at the BJP for its allegedly “inactive” role during India’s freedom struggle.

“Our commitment to the Indian nation is founded upon years of determined fight against British rule. When BJP’s forebears and the Muslim League were forming joint governments in Sindh and West Bengal as puppets of British, it is the Congress party that was waging a battle for India’s freedom. The RSS didn’t even fly the National Flag for 52 years,” he added. 

Likely at the shivir: Talks on new administrative units, public insight panel

Maken indicated that the shivir may usher in major changes in the organisational structure of the party to strengthen its internal democracy. “Our organisational structure is almost 50-years-old and our ways of working are almost 60-years-old. We need to reinvent ourselves and adopt new tools of democratic politics,” he said, adding that the party’s constitution allows it to introduce changes in the party make-up. 

Citing an example of a loophole, he said that currently the lowest unit of the party is at the polling booth level but the level above that is directly the block. “This huge gap at the lower levels has proved inefficient in current times. The shivir may introduce new administrative units in the party,” he said. 

He also spoke about creating a “public insight committee” and bringing better feedback mechanisms within the party, which until now relied largely upon private survey agencies during elections.

A Congress worker waves the party flag during the partys Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir, in Udaipur, Friday, May 13, 2022. Photo: PTI

“The idea is to get critical feedback throughout the year,” he said. He added that the various committees within the party also need better representation from various groups, and said the matter will be discussed in the next three days. 

Maken added that the “One Family, One Ticket” rule will also be considered, although he skirted a question on whether the rule will apply on the Gandhi family. He also said that an age bar for contesting elections will also be discussed, adding that there is unanimity in the party when it comes to reserving 50% of positions in all committees for those who are below 50. 

“No person should be in a post for more than five years and there should be a cooling off period for three years,” Maken said, adding that an assessment wing will check the performance of leaders.

“The focus of the event is to get our house in order,” Maken said, asserting that the shivir will “transform the way the Congress Party functions as an organisation.”

As part of this agenda, the party on the first day of the event made it a point to indicate that its attention is towards getting greater participation of youth from diverse backgrounds at every level. It also ensured that young leaders like Raja Warring, Ragini Nayak, Alka Lamba, Karishma Thakur and others are given wide visibility at press briefings to talk about problems like rising unemployment and education.

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