NEW DELHI: The All India Congress Committee is sitting for two day deliberations at its 84th plenary, in what should be an exercise to regain power and defeat the RSS-BJP in the 2019 ( or possibly 2018) Lok Sabha polls. Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah hit the chord that characterises the Congress party by declaring that “nothing” will stop Rahul Gandhi from becoming the Prime Minister in the forthcoming elections.

In words and rhetoric the first day of the session met expectations. The tone and tenor of the attack on the BJP was undiluted, the support for Rahul Gandhi unmitigated, the call to all regional parties to unite behind the Congress loud and clear.

Congress mentor Sonia Gandhi said that the Modi government was playing all its cards—saam, daam,dand, bhed- --but the Congress has never bent and will not bend now before the arrogance of power.

The political resolution moved by party leader Mallikarjun Kharge said that the Congress will adopt a 'pragmatic approach’ of cooperation and will evolve a common program. He said that all should be prepared to make whatever promises required to defend the Constitution.

"Our Republic must be protected at all costs", the political resolution declared.

"The 84th Plenary of the Congress gives a clarion call to its rank and file to rise to the occasion to defend the fundamental values of our republic and constitutional democracy.A resurgent Congress alone shall win back the idea of India as envisioned by the founding fathers of our nation," the resolution stated.The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi remained the focus of the attack.

The solution really lies away from the plenary that is significant however, in giving a new direction to the workers. And setting out the anti-BJP political line without ambiguity. It has also made it clear to the party that it should prepare itself now for alliances in the run up to the polls, with Sonia Gandhi having started the ball rolling with dinners and meetings with all regional leaders who agree to attend. And in the process presenting a Second Front under the Congress to take on the might of the BJP in the parliamentary polls.

The success of this, or otherwise lies in 5 factors:

  1. The ability of the Congress First Family to eat crow as and when required. In that to reach out with humility and not arrogance ---as evident when leaders from Assam and Punjab are kept waiting for hours (weeks and months) without ‘audience’---and a realisation that despite the privileged status they exist to serve the people of India. This will then open doors to warmer, more equal interactions with the regional leaders whose egos seek to cover up the vulnerability of being smaller, and just state level players, in the big picture.
  2. Even today on the sidelines of the plenary voices that the Congress will be the first party are being heard from the so called old guard, who have been trained through the years to capture the territory before the polls, only to lose it all after the results come in. In that the party will have to shift strategy to a point where it is able to learn from the BJP, by following rather than leading parties when the occasion so demands. If the team rushed from Delhi to Meghalaya had been more flexible in its approach, and not staked its claim to form the government at the onset, the Congress could have been in a coalition government instead of leaving the state to the BJP that did exactly that. Humbled itself before the regional players. The Congress should prepare itself for playing second or even third fiddle in states where the regional parties, and potential allies, are strong using the opportunity to strengthen its ranks and revive the flagging organisation instead of just seeking seats and power.
  3. Develop a political vision, and an understanding that the stakes are for tomorrow and not necessarily today. This is essential to develop a politics that is able to exercise patience and restraint, and thereby allow regional parties to rule if so required, without trying to grab the seats and thereby unsettling what will be crucial alliances in the 2019 polls. The Congress will have to become the ‘glue’ to bring together the alliance---as the Left had done at one point in time by allowing all regional parties their head---instead of using the alliance to grab more than can be its due. As in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress barely exists and even in these two by elections in Gorakhpur and Phulpur it fielded candidates who lost their deposits. Instead it could have used the opportunity to send out a gesture of support, and not fielded candidates. After all the BSP, the arch rival of the Samajwadi party, demonstrated this maturity by leaving the two Lok Sabha seats to the SP to contest.
  4. Elections can no longer be the only vehicle for the Congress to try and increase its political footprint. This has to be done away from the electoral field by activating its front organisations that were effective at some far gone point in history--- the Sewa Dal, the Youth Congress, the Mahila Congress, the students NSUI (all barely heard of now except in very limited areas)---so that it regains the hold on the ground through which it can then build an efficient and responsive organisation. As UP Assembly elections showed, just campaigning by the leader no matter how extensive, will not allow the party to win in these times. The contrast was visible in Gujarat where the Congress actually mounted a tough fight, and in its alliance with the young leaders outside in the party in the state demonstrated rare flexibility in its approach.
  5. If Gujarat is an indication, then Rahul Gandhi has a team that can make it work. This team should be given full play without the old guard trying to break the new momentum in a bid to retain its control and protect the vested interests it has developed within the party structure. The party president will of course to get to know the party first, which he does not really, so that he can draw on the best in a state and enable some of the better tuned in leaders like Siddaramaiah to sharpen the fight at the hustings with his back protected. The mess of rivalries in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have to be sorted out to begin with, and the party rush through the rhetoric to make a difference on the ground.

There is this old hangover in the party, that it just has to be around and the anti-BJP vote will flow to it. Where else will it go? Back to the BJP if the Congress is not seen as a fighting force, or to the regional parties where these have a base. UP has shown that over and over again, and as the BJP now knows, but the Congress seems to have forgotten, the key to Parliament is still held by India’s poorest and largest state. Of course, Rahul Gandhi has registered a new approach but his tendency to disappear at crucial moments from the political arena makes for a lack of consistency that is then exploited by the old guard for its own ends. There is no room in India for a part time politician unfortunately.

As for a programs and policies, the Congress has shown little signs of shifting ground, but this for another report.