Groping in the dark

Print edition : January 31, 2003

Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi with Dr. Manmohan Singh at the CWC meeting in New Delhi on January 5. - RAMESH SHARMA

The Congress Working Committee resolution merely vows to combat communalism, but fails to spell out a clear political direction for the party in the coming Assembly elections.

IF anyone thought that the much-awaited Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting would spell out the party's political course for the future after clinically dissecting the reasons for the party's debacle in the recent Gujarat Assembly elections, one was terribly mistaken. Instead, what came out of the session in the name of resolution was a verbose, hyperbolic piece of prose, replete with jargons and cliches, and carrying no message.

The marathon CWC meeting on January 5, where the Congress(I)'s best minds laboured over the strategy to be followed in the nine States going to the polls this year and pored over the results of the Gujarat elections, turned out to be an exercise in futility, for it failed to spell out a political initiative. Whatever meaning has been attributed to the meeting was the result of a laborious media exercise aimed at finding signals about the party opting for alliances in the States going to the polls. Except for criticising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar for misinterpreting Hinduism for their narrow political ends, and resolving not to let them succeed in their pernicious attempts, the CWC resolution said little.

Predictably enough, the resolution condemns the BJP's "sinister attempts to equate Hindutva with Hinduism", which, it says, is a "diabolical design to confuse, mislead and misguide the people". It fails to specify how the party will counter this diabolical design, although it vows "not to let these diabolical moves go unchallenged and unconfronted". There is no indication as to how the Congress(I) plans to halt these forces of disintegration. Except for the statement that the party will mobilise all forces in pursuit of its objectives, there is nothing by way of detail.

The CWC resolution is enough indication that the Congress(I) is on the horns of a dilemma over Hindutva/Hinduism. It certainly does not want to alienate the vast sections of Hindu society, but it also does not want to allow the BJP to get away with its Hindutva plank. Hence the laboured explanation that the Congress(I) alone stands for secularism, which is "anchored in a vision of Indian nationalism with its emphasis on the promotion of harmony, tolerance, national unity and integration."

Simultaneously, there is an effort to establish that the BJP's "deliberate, perverted misinterpretation of Hinduism" will only divide the people and damage the country's unity, integrity and amity. The CWC has resolved that secularism for the Congress(I) means combating "all forms of communalism and religious fundamentalism". But the big question remains: how? If the Congress(I) had the wherewithal to combat communalism and religious fundamentalism it would not have lost Gujarat. No other State has ever witnessed such a raw display of communalism and religious fundamentalism as Gujarat did in the months preceding the elections. Why did the Congress(I) fail there? There is no introspection on such issues in the resolution. Instead, the party imperiously goes on to claim that it is the "only party that appeals to and derives its sustenance and support from each and every section of our diverse society and that it is the only party with the experience of and an agenda for good governance combining economic growth with social harmony".

The only sphere where the CWC displays some clarity is national security. The resolution comes down heavily on the Centre for failing to curb cross-border terrorism despite having the support of all Opposition parties, and deplores the efforts of the BJP and its allies to use the confrontation with Pakistan to "polarise the country along communal lines". It seeks to remind the country that the Congress(I), despite losing three of its top leaders to religious fundamentalism and terrorism, has never compromised on national security, whereas the BJP, despite all-round support, failed to enhance national security, as was evident from the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in 1999, the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament House and the Kaluchak (Jammu) massacre in 2002.

After sustained questioning, party spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said that the party was open to alliances with like-minded parties in order to defeat communal forces. "We may have lost the battle, but we are aware that we have to win the war," he said bravely, trying to give some direction to the party's political thinking. Does it mean an alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, which could result in the toppling of the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party-BJP government, or with Sukhram's Himachal Vikas Party in Himachal Pradesh, which goes to the polls in February? Congress(I) leaders are tight-lipped about these.

AS for Uttar Pradesh, it seems Mulayam Singh's hopes of the Congress(I) propping him up for chief ministership would be dashed once again; his renewed appeals for support have elicited no response at all. "This issue is not high on our priority list yet. We are concentrating on the States going to the polls this year," said a senior Congress leader, making it clear that Mulayam Singh would have to wait.

As for Himchal Pradesh, State Congress leaders, especially Legislature Party leader Virbhadra Singh, are said to be against the idea of an alliance with Sukh Ram because it would dilute their only poll plank: corruption. Besides, they are of the opinion that any association with Sukh Ram, because of his long association with the BJP, would be more a liability than an asset.

Moreover, they are confident that the anti-incumbency factor is so strong in Himachal Pradesh that the Congress(I) is the natural claimant for power there. "There is no need for any alliance in Himachal Pradesh. We are strong enough. If the ticket is distributed judiciously, we will win," said Thakur Singh Bharmouri, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly from Chamba district, now camping in Delhi to lobby for the ticket.

Himachal Pradesh has turned out to be more of a prestige issue for the Congress(I) because this is the only State going to the polls in the immediate future. Also, the party is locked in a direct contest with the BJP there. In Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, the other three States, which will have elections simultaneously, the BJP is a nonentity. So Himachal Pradesh could set the precedent for the next round of Assembly elections, and possibly the Lok Sabha elections.

The party has deputed four of its senior leaders, Mohsina Kidwai, Motilal Vora, Ahmad Patel and Ambika Soni, to oversee the preparations in Himachal Pradesh. Obviously, Himachal Pradesh figures prominently in the Congress(I)'s scheme of things, but the CWC resolution gives no indication of an electoral strategy for the State.

Asked how she planned to counter and combat the communal and fundamentalist forces, party president Sonia Gandhi told the media that a strategy was in place but she was not obliged to disclose everything.

The Congress (I), instead of learning from its mistakes, continues to take people for granted. The CWC resolution too follows in the same mode. Without taking the people into confidence, the CWC appealed to them for their continued support and goodwill to strengthen the party, which is the "only true, national party with local roots".

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