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Congress Manifesto’s Commitment to Social Justice Will Put Other Parties on the Defensive

Rahul Gandhi has repositioned his party’s ideology even while facing resistance from within his own ranks.
Rahul Gandhi meeting schoolchildren. Photo: X/@RahulGandhi

Two competing national parties, the Congress and the Bhartiya Janata Party have released their 2024 election manifestos. Congress has taken a radical position on social justice issues by adding a Samajik Nyay (social justice) pillar as part of its five economic justice pillars. It has promised a nationwide caste census along with the removal of the 50% cap on reservation by amending the Constitution, if it comes to power.

The BJP, on the other hand, remained completely silent on caste census, though there is a nationwide demand for it. It, in fact, is confined to its classical issue of Uniform Civil Code and also the pro-monopoly capital vikas ideology.

Anti-caste social justice began with its adoption in the Constitution in 1950. The new Constitution recognised the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as social categories that needs to be provided reservations in education, employment and also in electoral bodies based on their caste numbers.

However, the Congress party never made social justice ideology a part of its election manifesto. The Congress was not only the party that led the freedom struggle, but it was also the party that established the procedure for conducting elections in the country. Releasing a well-coded manifesto for each election was also introduced by the Congress. Till the BJP emerged as a national party after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Congress was the only national party that declared impactful manifestos nationwide with some welfare policies. The communists and socialists were not a major electoral force, nor were they faithful to the Constitution as they saw it as a bourgeoisie document. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political arm, the Jan Sangh, also had no faith in the Constitution as they saw it as Western and anti-Hindutva. Therefore elections for them were a tactical method to defame the Congress and the communists.

Also read: What I Told Rahul Gandhi As I Walked With Him in the Bharat Jodo Yatra

Indian democracy, till the BJP emerged as a national alternative to the Congress in the 1990s, was a one-party show. Yet they were putting their manifestos before the nation in each election. In 1990, the Mandal movement and the Shudra/OBC reservations changed the Congress’s fortunes. Even then, the Congress refused to recognise caste as a category of electoral mobilisation.

Their identity politics remained confined to the Muslim minority and also to some extent to the SC/STs as a reservation force. But they did not touch the caste system or formulate ideas and policies for weakening the control of Dwija communities like the Brahmins, Baniyas, Kayasthas, Khatris and Kshatriyas on the party and the nation. The Congress was totally under the grip of so-called secular Dwijas.

The Nehru family played a key role in shaping that secular Brahminism. Nehru opposed the implementation of the Kaka Kalelkar Report and Indira Gandhi opposed implementing the Mandal Commission Report with a view that once the Shudra/OBCs are brought under the national reservation policy the history of India would change. The Indian state refused to recognise the Shudras as an oppressed fourth varna in the Indian social system.

Most if not all the Congress leaders, perhaps except Nehru, considered themselves spiritually Hindu. They refused to recognise that the Hindu spiritual system looked at the Shudra agrarian masses as un-equals and oppressed even after the Constitutional republic was established.

When the Congress was the monopoly ruling party, it did not want to create a crisis within the ruling Dwija forces. But when the crisis was forced from outside it should have responded in a social reformist way. Rajiv Gandhi and Dwija forces around him in 1990 failed to respond in a creative, reformist way in the wake of implementation of the Mandal Report by the V.P.Singh government in 1990.

That misjudgment of the Congress in 1990 pushed the nation into the hands of Shudra regional parties and gradually into the hands of the BJP with a diabolical identity politics that the RSS/BJP adopted by bringing in Narendra Modi with an OBC certificate in his hands, as an agent of the Gujarati-Mumbai corporate capital. It is this Baniya-led capital craving for monopoly control over the Indian political system that created a deeper crisis for the Congress. It became a party of no resources and no capital support. Now, ten years of that monopoly control of the Gujarati-Mumbai-Baniya capital with Modi as its agent has weakened the Congress to a point that it could disappear from the national scene if it did not take a radical step by repositioning itself with a strong social justice agenda. Without such an agenda, regional parties that came into existence with social justice and caste identity politics as their main planks would not join hands with the Congress.

The RSS/BJP reached the monopoly political place where it is today with the full support of monopoly capital and half-hearted social justice plank, with a game plan of manoeuvring the consciousness of people with Mandir talk, money and strategic mass mobilisation.

Finally Rahul Gandhi, who comes from the same Nehru family, realised the need for repositioning the party’s ideological agenda, though there was opposition in his own party. He took a major step  by adopting social justice as one of the main five pillars of the Congress’s 2024 manifesto. The declaration that once the Congress comes to power in Delhi nationwide a caste census will be taken up and the Constitution will be amended to overcome the 50% reservation cap imposed by the Supreme Court was included in the manifesto.

After such a major repositioning of the Congress’s electoral ideology, Rahul and the party are facing internal opposition. A senior leader of the party, Anand Sharma, has already written a letter to the party’s president that such a move into identity politics is against the party’s heritage. Some other leaders that come from a Dwija family background have already left the party, though citing other reasons. But actually they do not want to go with Rahul on the question of social justice.

But Rahul had no way but to take a radical step, like Indira Gandhi took against the wishes of senior leaders in the context of her electoral agenda of Garibi Hatao, bank nationalisation and abolition of privy purses in the early 1970s. She rebuilt her party with new faces.

Also read: 2024 Lok Sabha Elections Are a Fight to Win Back the Nation’s Soul

A party like the Congress accepting such a Shudra/OBC demand for nationwide caste census will have huge implications for all parties. The BJP cannot escape the heat of this Samajik Nyay pillar in the Congress manifesto. However the BJP tries to belittle Rahul, they cannot ignore the social justice pillar of the Congress. The regional parties find no way to distinguish between the Congress and themselves once this manifesto goes to the masses across the country. The RSS/BJP, which managed the Shudra/OBC votes by giving a share in electoral power to castes that had no representation in different states and of course with Modi as an OBC face, will not be able to ignore the Congress manifesto.

Rahul, after V.P. Singh, will be seen as the leader having come from the Dwija (Brahmin) family background who changed the ideology of the grand old party that brought independence to India. After Mahatma Gandhi, he will be seen as a socio-political reform leader in the country. No amount of organised dismissal campaigns against him will work hereafter.

His stature as a socio-political reformist leader will not be confined to just electoral politics. The Shudra/OBCs see him as their man more than Modi now.

Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is a political theorist, social activist and author. His latest book is The Clash of Cultures (Productive Masses Vs Hindutva-Mullah Conflicting Ethics).

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