With the Congress struggling to find an effective counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindu majoritarian narrative and its efforts to deal with the allegations of appeasement of the minorities by dabbling in soft-Hindutva yielding very limited results, a debate on how the party could recast its ideology and its approach towards religion saw a sharp divide down the middle at the Nav Sankalp Shivir in Udaipur.
Participants discussed the need to establish actual connections with people at the grassroots level – panchayats and municipalities, and especially with the youth who comprise a huge chunk of the electorate.
“Connect must be established through village to village, door to door and people to people contacts, through seminars, workshops, interactive sessions,” it is suggested. A series of ‘padayatras’ led by prominent and senior leaders of parties across the country, starting right now, can be seriously considered, the committee feels.
The committee set up to discuss political challenges, which was headed by veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge, yesterday took up for discussion the issue of the need to redefine the party's ideology to “reassure our party workers and supporters.”
The discussion saw a proposal being mooted that the party should reach out to social, cultural and religious organisations to enhance its support base. However, leaders belonging to the southern states demanded that the word 'religious' be removed as it ran counter to the secular identity of the party.
However, leaders from the northern states said a pragmatic approach should be adopted and tying up with religious organisations should be considered. As there was no resolution of the differences on the issue, panel head Kharge decided to leave the issue for the Congress Working Committee to take a call on.
The report of the Kharge panel, along with those of the five other committees looking at issues under various heads, was submitted to Congress President Sonia Gandhi this morning. The recommendations would be discussed and ratified by the Congress Working Committee and spelt out as the Udaipur Declaration on what should be the road ahead for the party.
According to sources, some leaders felt that dabbling with soft Hindutva, which includes temple runs of senior Congress leaders ahead of elections fails to yield any results and the party only ends up looking like a pale shadow of the BJP. It was felt that the party should be strident in its criticism of the polarising impact of the BJP-RSS ideology and policy.
However, there were others who felt that a nuanced approach needs to be adopted which involves reaching out culturally to the Hindu community while aggressively taking on the 'communal agenda' of the BJP.
The committee stressed that the party needs to “Reaffirm our commitment to the Constitution, of ensuring the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, the federal structure, the poorest and the most oppressed in the society.”
With a debate with regard to what constitutes being an Indian and the perceived tendency by the ruling dispensation to equate Hindutva with Indianness, the Kharge-led discussions have shortlisted as a measure to be taken up by the party the need to “reclaim the Indian way of life and what it means to be an Indian.”
It has been proposed that the party should retrieve its rich legacy, a large part of which is its involvement in the struggle for independence, to connect with the youth.
As per sources, it has been suggested that the party needs to reinvent out politics to “transform the party, society, and the nation, including politics as a form of social service, how we connect to the people on issues that matter to them, how we raise funds from the people, how we tackle lies and distortions, and how we can lead initiatives that bring people together.”
On the issue of alliances, the committee has proposed that Congress should continue to work together with all like-minded democratic secular parties and explore pragmatic coalitions while strengthening its presence in all blocks and districts of the country.