Last week in Udaipur, the Congress was expected to come up with some credible course amendments for the party to keep the new Sankalp Chintan Shibir (Brain Storm Camp) relevant. The outcome of the meeting, however, has been utterly disappointing, reflecting the discomfort that plagues the Grand Old Party. It is clear that the party is refusing despite the so-called G23 reform appeal. A journey to resuscitate and return to health sounds promising to connect with its grassroots, but where is the basis? For any such journey to be successful, the party needs a clear alternative vision and someone strong enough to communicate that vision. Brainstorming sessions have failed in both cases. While Congress president Sonia Gandhi has slammed the Bharatiya Janata Party government for escalating communal tensions, it has maintained a studied silence on how the party plans to deal with it. There was nothing new in the economic field either.
Congress spokesmen have struck a major deal with the party’s “One Family, One Ticket” resolution. But caution has shown how hollow the claim is. The resolution allows other family members to compete if they have been working with the team for more than five years. This excludes Gandhi and most of the other families in the existing Congress set-up. The meeting also failed to determine accountability for the party’s series of electoral losses and, more importantly, the party’s decision to end the year-long election process on the pretext that it did not resolve the uncertainty that existed over the leadership issue. The President has already set the pace. What this means is that Sonia Gandhi will continue to be the Congress president and Rahul Gandhi will be the driving force behind it. This is hardly a new thought, because Rahul Gandhi’s leadership of the party was not yet inspiring. Creating space for young, marginalized and women is nothing more than a copycat system, as other parties, including the BJP, have already pledged proportional participation in each of the three divisions.
The most prominent indicator of a lack of ideas within the party comes from its economic agenda. P Chidambaram’s call for a “reconstruction” of liberalization policies to address growing inequality, malnutrition, etc. was a sincere motive. But the team almost immediately lost the plot. In addition to supporting the need for a national agricultural debt relief panel, the party said it was in “strong support” enacting a minimum support price law, completely ignoring the foolishness of fixed prices, open government procurement and the strict need for reform. The Debt Relief Panel is a continuation of a policy that not only poses a moral hazard to debt repayment, but also fails to serve a large segment of the truly weak. A NABARD-funded survey published last month found that in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra, which have been waived since 2017, about 40% of ‘extremely distressed farmers’ did not benefit from the waiver. In some states, only a quarter of farmers receive institutional loans, meaning that the waiver serves very little purpose other than encouraging intentional default.
It is difficult to find out what persuaded Congress to support such a retreat. The promise to oppose the “thoughtless” privatization of profitable PSUs without providing “elements of social justice” seems like a broken compass on privatization / investment. How can the “social justice” served by PSUs be measured? Overall, the party needs to learn the right lessons from the rapid electoral collapse. Instead of rushing to satisfy the appetite of voters for a bad policy like free, which forces the cashless government to cut corners on projects that improve human capital, Congress should have come up with some radical thinking, if it is relevant.