Rahul Gandhi meets Muslim intellectuals as part of Congress outreach programme
The Congress plans to reach out to professionals, industrialists, civil society and all those who “influence public opinion” and “are aligned to the party’s ideology” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. As part of the outreach, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday met a dozen Muslim intellectuals and activists.
The exercise is similar to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Sampark for Samarthan (Contact for Support) initiative launched on May 29 to mark the completion of four years of the Narendra Modi government and with an eye on the 2019 polls.
Those who attended Wednesday’s interaction with Gandhi included economist Abusaleh Sharif, former Planning Commission member Syeda Saiyidain Hameed, New Delhi-based historian S Irfan Habib, activist Farah Naqvi, educationists Rakhshanda Jalil and Ilyas Malik apart from Congress leaders Salman Khurshid and Nadeem Javed.
In the interaction, Gandhi spoke about the future strategy of the Congress and his party’s greater acceptability among regional parties, including past adversaries such as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). The meeting came in the backdrop of the Congress party’s efforts to carve out a wider “secular and democratic alliance”.
In a letter to state chiefs, Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation Ashok Gehlot has asked them to “maintain a database of potential influencers” as per the direction of Gandhi, who will be “expanding his efforts to engage” with a wider section of the society.
“In every state, there are large number of professionals, civil society, activists, journalists, artists, writers, etc., who are aligned to Congress ideology, but may not be members of Congress party. But they are influencing the public opinion on the need to safeguard the idea of India, through their activities,” read the letter dated June 30, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.
Under the Sampark for Samarthan cqampaign, about 4,000 BJP functionaries, including chief ministers, union ministers and panchayat members across the country, will contact 100,000 eminent personalities.
As part of the programme, BJP president Amit Shah met former Army chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, cricketer Kapil Dev, former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C Kashyap, former chief justice of India RC Lahoti, veteran journalist Kuldeep Nayar and yoga guru Ramdev.
For its part, the Congress has identified the “potential influencers” as academics, retired bureaucrats, civil society activists, industrialists, doctors, lawyers, journalists at state and district levels, artists, former servicemen, “swamis, bishops and maulvis”, and trade union leaders.
Gehlot asked the state chiefs to appoint one general secretary to a meet wide range of “respected individuals” and collect their basic details. “The Congress president will be interacting with some of them either in Delhi or during his visits to states,” the letter said.
According to Habib, Gandhi acknowledged the “internal shortcomings” in the Congress party and said corrective measures were being taken. He quoted Gandhi as saying that one of the weaknesses was that the Congress had closed its doors on its own partymen and lot of workers felt left out. “He said this hadn’t happened suddenly but over the years.”
Gandhi, according to Habib, also said the Congress itself had grown more “accommodative” towards other like-minded parties. He can now talk to leaders like “Akhilesh Yadav (of Samajwadi Party), MK Stalin (of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and Chandrababu Naidu (of TDP) more openly on common issues,” Gandhi reportedly said. “Earlier, these parties were not open to us. Now, we will formulate a common strategy and come together,” Habib quoted Gandhi as having said.