The seventh chief ministers’ conclave in Nainital has driven home two messages: the need for consensus on core issues and the mutual trust between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that will go a long way in giving tangible shape to the promises made in the party manifesto and in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
The party has realised that unless policies pertaining to agriculture, internal security and reforms do not have community and mass support, the government or the party’s efforts cannot bear fruit. The key to achieving the objectives based on the CMP was to take the lead in building, first, a consensus among the Congress chief ministers and, subsequently, in trying to accelerate and widen the ambit of the “experiment to include others within and outside the UPA”.
The second, and very political, message is about the relationship of “immense trust” between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and how the two were working towards fulfilling the promises made in the party manifesto as well as in the CMP.
Sonia made it clear that the party backed Manmohan Singh as the head of the government by defending the Prime Minister openly and scotching speculation over the appointment of a deputy Prime Minister.
She never lost sight of the fact that in addition to being the party chief, she was also the UPA chairperson. Hence it was not surprising that she defended the performance of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar — despite their earlier differences on some issues — and declared that MP Chandrashekhar Rao and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) were free to return to the UPA fold. She also indicated a softening of stand towards Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee.
The meeting, coinciding with the near-half-way mark of the five-year tenure of the UPA government, was held in the backdrop of feedback that people’s participation was a must to lend credibility to the party’s new policies — or else India would just shine for a while, “keeping the aam aadmi in darkness”.
The discussions on agriculture and the party’s cautious approach to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) brought to the fore the “concern to consolidate food security”. Anomalies in farm loans and the hardships faced by farmers were also highlighted, leading to the resolution to make “life simpler” for them. The Congress, by identifying itself with the common man on the food crisis, tried to wrest the political space the Left parties were vying for.
The party felt that community support was necessary to counter terror threats and it would not be wise to alienate an entire community. In this context, it was important to include minorities in the police force and intelligence agencies. The basic idea was that if terrorists were isolated from their own community, it would be easier to nail them. The Congress hopes to keep the spotlight on itself by focusing on the twin objectives.