Steering a steady course
Perhaps it is due to Shimla’s salubrious climate, but the Congress’s conclave there has been, for a change, more purposeful than is usually the case.
One reason is the articulation in clear terms of the party’s approach to elections and secularism. On both counts, the Congress had appeared hesitant in the past. But Sonia Gandhi’s challenging declaration about the party’s readiness to face the elections at any time, either this year or the next, underlined a confidence which wasn’t much in evidence earlier. The point she made about secularism, mainly through her criticism of the saffron camp’s ‘warped’ Hinduism, was also more in tune with the traditional Congress line. It seemed to mark a departure from the nervous ‘soft’ Hindutva phase with which the party had become associated in recent times.
But presumably after the failure of this line in Gujarat, the Congress has apparently realised that the voters do not expect the party to be a pale imitation of the BJP but adhere to its own time-honoured pluralistic principles which refuse to distinguish between citizens on the basis of religion or any other divisive consideration. If it can stick to this policy, and not to be swayed by a sudden upsurge of sectarian feelings, then the Congress may yet be able to recover its lost ground not only among the minorities but also the liberals who had been disillusioned by its recent dithering.
Some of the forthrightness which the party is displaying may be due to the current problems of the BJP. The fiasco over its latest Ayodhya initiative, the eagerness to please China and the stop-and-go policies on Pakistan are signs that the BJP is not finding it easy to formulate policies with a sure hand. It is too early to say, of course, whether the Congress’s time has come, as Ms Gandhi believes. After all, the party’s weakness in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu makes its task of securing the requisite numbers in Parliament that much more difficult. Much will also depend on its performance in the next round of state elections. However, it is giving the impression of a greater clarity of purpose than before.