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Glued to the coalition

The AICC session to be held in Hyderabad later in the week assumes added significance, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2006 03:12 IST

The AICC session to be held in Hyderabad later in the week assumes added significance since for the first time the party, since coming to power and under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, will
be devising a strategy to consolidate its coalition mantra. In doing so, the party may have to keep track of ground realities to come out with both long-term and short-term plans. If the emphasis on forging a coalition was on secularism in Shimla, the party may extend it to economic benefits for the aam aadmi to increase its reach at the Andhra capital.

In fact, the session could also be used to evolve ways and means of unlearning some of the old norms so as to accommodate the coalition as well as a pro-people economic agenda becomes easier. If one has to examine the composition of the UPA and its allies, the sheer numbers of the Congress and the Left parties would influence the formulation of an economic agenda which, while sticking to ‘liberalisation’ jargon, may actually examine left of centre style of thinking.

The Congress has sworn in its pre-election promises that it was committed to working for the improvement of the aam aadmi. To achieve this objective, it will, during the session, have to package itself as a party which associates itself with the common man and voice its concerns more than its resolve to make India shine only for those who belong to a particular class or segment.

In Shimla, the resolutions that were adopted as well as Sonia Gandhi’s speeches reminded people of Indira Gandhi’s era. There was a lot of concern for the poor person as well as the weaker sections particularly women, Dalits and minorities. The realisation seemed to be there that Indira Gandhi’s slogan of garibi hatao had demonstrated beyond any doubt that any party which looked towards the welfare of the poor was on the right track. The Congress’s new slogan, Congress ka haath garib ke saath, seemed to have been inspired by the legendary slogan of the former prime minister, coined in the wake of her fight against the syndicate.

In fact, the message from Shimla was that the Congress was willing to lead any secular coalition that was committed to the welfare of the poor. This was in sharp contrast to what was projected by the BJP-led NDA government. It was positioning itself as a party whose ‘feel good factor’ and ‘India Shining’ image was perhaps confined to a particular section. The BJP and the NDA paid a price for creating that perception and the Congress emerged victorious with its allies.

But at Hyderabad, the Congress has to take its next step forward in terms of ideological, political and socio-economic positioning in today’s changing world of socio-political-economic scenario. The party has to review its strategies in order to move forward. In doing so, it has to also examine critically the performance of its government at the Centre and in the states. There has to be an exercise to determine whether the party has deviated from its path and what more needs to be done to consolidate first the party and then the coalition.

There has to be a serious rethink on what has gone wrong for the party in the Hindi heartland and how to revive it in states like UP and Bihar. In UP, the situation is perceived to be similar to what existed in Bihar. If, in Bihar, people wanted to ease out Lalu Prasad Yadav, in UP, some want to see the back of the regional parties. After learning from the Bihar experience, the Congress may fill the vacuum. A distinct strategy which is UP-centric must be put in place.

The message from Hyderabad should also have the right kind of signals for states which are expected to go to the polls this year. Here, the party may be required to do some tight political rope-walking since there are several allies who could be either adversaries or partners in the election. It is therefore imperative and important for the Congress to reassure its allies at the Centre that the political conflict in the states has to be confined to the regions and should not be allowed to spill over into the politics of the Centre.

The problem which seems to be arising at present is that, rightly or wrongly, perception exists that despite its commitment to coalition politics, the Congress works for itself and not for the allies. The governors who were appointed to various states after the UPA came to power were all choices of the main ruling party. Other appointments too showed that the Congress was picking favourites.

There is no argument that the principal party in power will not have the major say in all issues. But it can give a feeling of importance to other shareholders in power. For instance, a CPI(M) leader recently commented privately that given the composition of the Left-UPA coordination panel, it should be renamed the Congress-Left coordination panel, since, barring the Congress, no other UPA partner was part of the committee.

The AICC will provide the party the opportunity to ponder over course correction. The party has to critically examine changes in Indian society and polity in order to formulate concrete steps. Without understanding the basics and ground reality, the whole exercise may get reduced to a theoretical endeavour.

The announcement of the CWC and reconstitution of the AICC ahead of the session may have taken away the curiosity factor, but this was done perhaps to ensure that focus remained on deliberations and not on organisational re-structuring. Though at one stage it was clear that the CWC will be elected, the decision to nominate members was taken after keeping in mind the capacity of some ‘rich and affluent’ Congressmen to influence the voting process.

The AICC plenary may also pave the way for a cabinet reshuffle after a few days. All eyes will be on Hyderabad and how Sonia Gandhi gives the party a new mantra which will bring it closer to the masses. Indications are that she may focus more on women and youth this time. Between us.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 03:12 IST