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Message from Rahul Gandhi’s plenary address: The new Congress gets ready to battle

At its core, the plenary was all about preparing for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections

editorials Updated: Mar 18, 2018 20:18 IST
Rahul Gandhi,Congress,BJP
New Delhi: Congress President Rahul Gandhi speaks during the second day of the 84th Plenary Session of Indian National Congress (INC), at the Indira Gandhi stadium in New Delhi on Sunday. PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist(PTI3_18_2018_000116B)(PTI)

With one of his most aggressive speeches yet, the new Congress president Rahul Gandhi concluded the party’s 84th plenary on Sunday evening. He was unflinching in his attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its record on economic management, social harmony, institutions, and corruption. But Gandhi also introspected about the United Progressive Alliance’s failures in the last few years of its term, and promised a Congress where the gulf between the worker and the leader would be bridged.

The plenary marks a transition within the Grand Old Party. This shift comes at a time when the Congress is at its weakest ever — with power in only three states, and less than 50 seats in the Lok Sabha. It may have been slightly emboldened after putting up a strong challenge in Gujarat, winning bypolls in Rajasthan and seeing the BJP suffer a setback in Uttar Pradesh. But these results don’t hide the party’s structural weaknesses.

And that is why at its core, the plenary was about preparing for 2019. Gandhi’s speech, Sonia Gandhi’s address and the political and economic resolutions passed at the meet collectively illustrate the Congress game-plan for 2019. The party’s main tactic will be ‘pragmatic’ alliances. Recognising its own weaknesses, and the need to prevent the fragmentation of anti-BJP votes, it has reiterated its openness to pacts — without claiming leadership. The party’s main campaign plank will be the economy and the promise of growth, jobs and welfare. The idea is to capitalise on what the party thinks is the failure of the Modi government to deliver ‘achhe din’. Its main constituency will be farmers and the youth — two of the most substantial demographic categories in the country. Its main hope is that the BJP’s perceived push for homogeneity will bring it votes from south. But its organisation needs to be strengthened. Its cadres need to be motivated. It does not have the support of major social and caste groups in key election states. It is yet to evolve a narrative of what it can offer. On the leadership question, Mr Gandhi still has a formidable, powerful, and popular adversary in Mr Modi. The plenary has helped the party become battle-ready, but the battle will be long and hard.

First Published: Mar 18, 2018 20:18 IST