The Congress is perhaps facing its worst existential crisis today. The national vote percentage stands at 19.1, the lowest ever, and the party has been wiped out of the country except for Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, and Jharkhand, where it is in a coalition, and appears to have lost its ideological moorings. In the midst of all this and the confusion following the announcement of the election to the post of Congress president, Rahul Gandhi’s lack of interest in the hurly-burly of daily politics is perplexing to the average Indian. Even though he has steadfastly declined to hold any position in the party since the 2019 Lok Sabha debacle, it is no secret that he is the de-facto leader, wielding power without accountability or responsibility. So his apathy has confounded many.
However, it has now come to light that he has distanced himself deliberately from the daily humdrum of party affairs for a reason. He is apparently busy raising a generation that would be steeped in Congress ideology. His target audience are those in the 7-18 age group, who are being inculcated in the ideology of the Congress through nationwide training programmes. The initiative is being carried out at the national level by an organisational outfit called the Jawahar Bal Manch.
Fondly called the Bal Congress, the nationwide initiative was launched in September last year at the behest of Rahul Gandhi. He was inspired by a similar initiative in Kerala that has been running since 2007 under the banner of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. G.V. Hari, a sociologist, leads the Kerala initiative, which was started when Ramesh Chennithala was KPCC president. Hari has been appointed the national chairman of the Jawahar Bal Manch.
According to Hari, the primary motivation for starting Bal Manch is not politics, “but the situation in the country where people are spreading hatred. We face issues like fascism, casteism, racism, communalism, and it seems to be getting worse. Seeing the success of my initiative in Kerala, we thought why not take it to the all-India level. I can guarantee that after 10 years with me, these children will not leave the Congress ideology, whether they get an MLA or MP seat or not. We will have fewer Ghulam Nabi Azads.”
Hari says Rahul Gandhi got interested in the idea because he wants to fight the ideology of fascism. “Rahul ji says the need of the hour is to fight fascism. These children are only taught the Congress ideology, which is the ideology of our Constitution, and it gives primacy to secularism, liberalism, democracy, federalism, communal harmony, and so on. I only teach them the Constitution.”
The Bal Manch has committees at the panchayat, block, district, State and national levels. Membership is free. Each group can have 20-35 members. The children, called titaliyan (butterfly), meet twice a week over the weekend to learn about the country, its political system, and so on. Younger children are engaged in painting competitions, craft, theatre, camping, and visits to historical sites. Imparting physical training in collaboration with Seva Dal members is also on the cards.
The training is based on a curriculum finalised by Rahul Gandhi at a workshop held in September-October last year. “He spent two hours at the workshop and gave valuable suggestions and shared his thoughts. We made the curriculum based on Rahul ji’s ideas,” says Hari.
“Once the children complete our programme, they may or may not join the Congress. But they will work for society. We are not training them to become Congress members, but to protect the Constitution of India, which is the Bible, Quran and Gita of our country,” he says.
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The Jawahar Bal Manch occupies pride of place at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, but the average Congressman on its premises is unaware of the organisation’s vision or mission because not much has been shared about the initiative even inside the party. “Maybe Rahul Gandhi has realised that trying to impress adults is futile so he is raising the new generation in a way that would make them look up to him like Chacha Nehru. Maybe then the Congress can come back to power,” says a smirking party worker.
“I try to avoid the limelight because it can be dangerous at times. You get threatened. I work quietly. We are just beginning,” says Hari. Interestingly, even though the Jawahar Bal Manch has a website, its vision document is missing. “I am sorry I cannot share it with you. The vision is confidential, though I can share the broad points with you,” he says.
The Bal Manch will organise nationwide painting competitions during the Bharat Jodo Yatra (a 150-day, 3,500-km march from September 7) and hold an exhibition of the five best paintings from each State after the yatra is concluded. The theme of this competition will be “Unity in diversity”.