With the clear objective of once again identifying itself with the weaker and poorer sections of society that was once the party's vote bank, the Congress-led UPA government has taken a conscious decision to go back to the Congress's theme of 35 years ago, Garibi Hatao.
All India Congress Committee general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said: "We are happy that the UPA government is planning to revive the old spirit. No government policy can have any relevance till it brings about a qualitative difference in the lives of the weaker sections. This is obviously a step in that direction."
The cabinet's decision also aims at emphasising the commitment contained in the coalition's common minimum programme (CMP), to bring in measures to effect a qualitative change in the life of the aam aadmi (common man).
The government, with its new slogan, will simultaneously carry on its reforms agenda, while taking care to ensure that the benefits percolate down to the lowest strata of society and do not favour a small segment.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who had used Indira Gandhi's political idiom to send out a strong message to the masses during the party's Shimla Conclave in 2003, appears to have influenced the cabinet decision.
The decision is intended to accommodate the concerns of the common man, and send out a clear signal that the Congress is serious about implementing the promises in its manifesto as well as the points contained in the CMP. The shift in focus hopes to erase the impression that the Left alone is the saviour of the weak and the downtrodden.
Reviving the slogan also eliminates any possibility of the UPA government making the mistake of its predecessor the NDA, which created the perception that "India was shining only for the rich and affluent".
The introduction of the 20-point programme in its new avatar is also seen as an extension of the original 20-point programme initiated during Indira Gandhi's tenure in the mid-Seventies, but recasting it to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
Old-timers like ML Fotedar, who was a key aide to Indira Gandhi, recall that "there were 100 points and the party had decided to take 20 points at a time. Fresh points in the agenda were introduced during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure. It is very heartening that the emphasis continues to be on improving the lot of the weaker sections. It will lead to social equality and justice".
Although it was Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi — who had been a Youth Congress leader when Indira Gandhi coined the original slogan — announced its adoption this time, there were enough indications during the Nainital Conclave of the Congress chief ministers recently that the party wanted to maintain a balance between reforms on one hand and the concern for the weaker sections on the other.
The new points, which will be upgraded versions of the original points of the 1970s, will come into force during the next financial year. The announcement itself is the first real indicator of the Congress (and the UPA) preparing for the next round of elections to be held early next year.
Fotedar recalled that when Indira Gandhi abolished the privy purses and nationalised the banks, her then principal secretary PN Haksar had said that "she was fighting the second war of independence".
The idea behind the slogan was to bring about social equality. After facing resistance from princes to her abolition of their privileges, she gave the call: "Woh kehte hain Indira hatao, main kehti hoon garibi hatao".
RK Dhawan, another long-time aide of the former prime minister, commenting on the cabinet decision said, "This only shows that the Congress party and the Nehru-Gandhi family are committed to the welfare of the weaker sections. This concern for the poor people had derailed for some time and the Congress, by bringing its essence back, has made a strong case for standing up for issues that concern the poor and weaker sections of society."