Congress chief ministers’ meeting over the weekend in Nainital will see them interact with the central leadership of the party to evolve a twin strategy to deal with the increasing threat to India’s internal security on the one hand and the decline of its agricultural sector on the other. The significance of the conclave lies in the fact that the largest political party of the country has decided to put these two important issues in focus at the national level. In fact, the timing is perfect, and a focused discussion involving both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi shows the firm resolve of the top leadership to find solutions.
The party which at one time was in power at the Centre as well as in most of the states is attempting to once again take the lead in setting the national agenda, this time in a political atmosphere marked by the diametrically opposite stands taken by several other parties whose views on dealing with these sensitive subjects are sometimes myopic and highly sectarian.
India is a unique country and, therefore, solutions to deal with terrorism, for instance, will have to be looked at from our own perspective, and not through that of the West. The Western world has virtually started acting as if terrorism and Islam were synonymous. However, in India, the only workable solution is to target terrorists without targeting any community.
The Muslims in this country are from the same ethnic stock as the majority community and are not immigrants like they could be in the Western world. The Congress CMs, therefore, must bear this in mind and ensure that while terrorists should be strictly dealt with, the initiative should not become an exercise in over-enthusiasm, which could lead to targeting of the entire community. While pursuing terrorists, care has to be taken that no innocent person of any faith is unnecessarily harassed or implicated.
This is where the Congress’s approach could be different from that of other parties’. The idea should not be to pursue a political agenda of pleasing the Muslim or Hindu vote bank, which some parties may want to, by expressing concern over the increasing threat to internal security. In the past, special laws like Tada and Pota were imposed by various governments with the sole objective of dealing with terrorists. But in practice, it was discovered that the draconian measures were rampantly used in many states to arrest those who did not in anyway fit any definition of terrorist. These laws were also used against the Muslim community, thereby precipitating a hate agenda which pitted one community against the other and contributed to the consolidation of the Hindu vote bank in favour of the BJP or some other Right-wing fundamentalist party. The case of Gujarat is an example.
The Nainital conclave, which is the fourth such meet in the past four years — the previous meetings having been held in Guwahati, Mount Abu and Chandigarh — will provide a forum for free and frank discussion on various issues, including governance, literacy programmes, public distribution system, price rise and other matters of national importance. In fact, it was Sonia Gandhi’s initiative, when the Congress was in opposition, to channelise the collective wisdom of the Chief Ministers in order to find solutions to the various problems facing the country. The informal discussions also help in creating a synergy between the Centre, the state governments and the party, and the arrangement has more or less become institutionalised by now.
Party ideologue and constitutional expert Devendra Dwivedi feels the meet reflects India’s quasi-federal structure and is a step forward in the pursuit of an agenda for national politics. An agenda which, according to Dwivedi, is neither central politics nor state politics; it is, in fact, a combination of federal, central and state politics. The CMs’ meet is a forum for free interaction on truly national affairs.
The meet will also provide an opportunity to the party high command to assess the performance of all its Chief Ministers and to initiate steps for implementing the successful programmes of one state in other states. Since the meet is being held in Nainital in Uttaranchal, where polls are due early next year, the party may also discuss its prospects there as well as other such states including Punjab and UP.
So far no political party has been able to find the formula of winning an election. There have been instances where governments have performed reasonably well — from their own party’s point of view — but have slipped in the polls. The case of the Narasimha Rao government and the subsequent Vajpayee government are examples given by many political pundits. It appears that over the years it has become more important to strike the right balance between caste and community factors. In both Punjab and Uttaranchal, the performance of the Congress governments is considered satisfactory. But the results cannot be relied upon to secure a victory. Therefore, the party will obviously have to work out strategies to drive home its advantage.
Meetings like these do help parties devise new road maps and review promises made to the people at election time. They provide an opportunity to look at matters in a focused manner rather than in a defused form. In fact, it will be significant to see how the Congress and its governments deliver in the aftermath of the conclave. It is also to be observed if there will be any casualties in terms of non-performing Chief Ministers getting replaced. It is certainly an attempt by the party to revive itself nationally. Between us.