Stressing its agenda of inclusive growth, the Congress on Friday kick-started a first-of-its-kind consultation process with representatives of Dalit, tribal and Other Backward Castes (OBC) communities on the party's 2014 election manifesto.
This was the first meeting with the identified group of stakeholders - held in the wake of the party's drubbing in the recently held assembly elections. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was present on the occasion, said the party earlier used to script manifestoes in closed rooms, but now "it has opened up the process".
The Congress fared poorly in tribal belts in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the 2013 assembly elections. The only exception was Chhattisgarh's Bastar region, where the Congress bagged sympathy votes after the killing of its top state leaders in a Maoist ambush. The polls were referred to as the semi-finals of the general elections next year.
Many participants demanded that the Congress must promise a definite roadmap for reservation of jobs in the private sector. The government had earlier held a few rounds of discussions with industries, but no concrete measure could be taken.
Out of the 235 total participants, including 135 organisations representing the backward sections, many demanded more help from the government to access quality education, affordable healthcare and livelihood.
While some leaders spoke about the need for adequate representation of SCs, STs and OBCs within the party and the government, many organisations harped on the unorganised sector where these sections have a large presence.
Gandhi promised, "Whatever direction you give today will be reflected in the manifesto, and we will implement all that is included in it."
Briefing the media on the meeting, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said that the party would organise more such consultations with various sections such as minorities, women and youth in the coming weeks.
According to a press release, the party was also asked to revisit the land reforms agenda and "access to land for the poor should be enhanced."
With regional parties trying to cobble their own alliance and new entrant AAP routing the Congress in Delhi, the party also decided that its manifesto will also talk about state-specific issues instead of only focusing on national matters.
While Gandhi stressed quality education was a key to empowerment, suggestions also poured in from the audience for a policy for domestic workers, effective implementation of social security measures for unorganised workers, introduction of All India Judicial Services and homestead rights for the homeless.
Apart from Gandhi and Ramesh, ministers such as P Chidambaram, Kumari Selja, Veerappa Moily, KC Deo and party leaders Mukul Wasnik and K Raju were also present.