'It was disappointing on two counts. One is on the leadership issue and second is how the Congress must win elections.'
The Indian National Congress adopted some wide-ranging organisational reforms during its three-day Chintan Shivir (over the weekend in Udaipur to determine a future route for the party.
The Chintan Shivir was held at a time when the Congress has lost 10 assembly elections in 13 months and its electoral prospects looking bleak and dismal.
"This Chintan Shivir was a lost opportunity as Sonia Gandhi rejected the idea of collective leadership. She could have come out and said openly that the Congress will have a non-Gandhi as the next president, but she did not do so," Rasheed Kidwai, veteran Congress watcher and author of 24 Akbar Road and Sonia-A Biography, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.
What was the outcome of the Congress's Chintan Shivir?
High on optics, low on delivery.
The Congress has been going through an existential crisis. But the issues it is facing have been dealt with in half measure.
For instance, G-23 dissenters were asking for collective leadership, but Sonia Gandhi rejected it.
The other point was the revival of the Congress Parliamentary Board which is the supreme body in the All India Congress Committee. That has not been reconstituted. Instead, Sonia Gandhi opted for a Political Affairs Committee.
The members of this PAC will be picked from the Congress Working Committee.
The problem here is that leaders like Sachin Pilot, Kamal Nath, Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Ashok Chavan, D K Shivkumar, Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel, Shashi Tharoor are not part of the CWC.
Therefore, the members of the PAC in the Congress will have no connect with the masses or have any standing in public life.
Will the rule of 'One family, One ticket' help the Congress shed the image of being a dynastic party?
Again, this too is high on optics. This rule comes with a rider: Two or more members of a family can contest elections on a Congress ticket if they have been in active politics for five years or more.
This rule will be applicable prospectively rather than retrospectively.
Anybody who has contested the 2019 or any state elections before that is fit to contest further elections.
For instance, Ashok Gehlot's son had contested the 2019 elections, so he will be able to contest the 2024 elections too.
This 'One family, One ticket' rule does not eradicate dynasty culture in the Congress. It is also a half measure.
It is only applicable to someone who will join the Congress now as they will have to wait for five years before their family members get a ticket.
In a recent interview with ANI, Prime Minister Modi had said while the BJP accepts dynasts at the entry level, the top post in the Congress is always reserved for the dynast.
Rahul Gandhi will embark on a padyatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir from October 2. Will that help improve the party's connect with the people on the ground?
This is high on symbolism. Priyanka Gandhi addressed over 200 public meetings before the Uttar Pradesh elections. She criss-crossed the entire length and breadth of UP. But the result was a disaster.
The Congress won only two assembly seats and got a little over 2 per cent votes in UP.
The Congress needs to settle its leadership issue first. And plan how it is going to win more seats in 2024.
For that it requires alliances, selection of candidates ahead of time. They also need to fight the majoritarian politics of the BJP and the muscular nationalism of Modi. They need to find a way.
On the Gyanvyapi mosque issue, P Chidambaram spoke about the Places of Worship Act and that the mosque should not be disturbed. Do you think such statements alienate Hindu voters from the Congress?
Neither Sonia nor Rahul spoke clearly on such issues in Udaipur. They did not give clear ideological instructions on how to deal with such issues in future.
Internally, it was discussed as Bhupesh Baghel, Kamal Nath spoke about the religious outreach by Congress workers.
They proposed that Congress district level workers must organise dahi handi contests. They also suggested that Congress district offices and Pradesh Congress Committee offices should organise Ganesh mandals.
They suggested that Congress workers should celebrate the Navratra festival with fanfare.
Their suggestions were opposed by (former Tirupati MP) Chinta Mohan, B K Hari Prasad and other MPs from the South.
They said the Congress should not go and bat on the BJP's pitch.
This divide in opinions should have been dealt with by Rahul or Sonia, but that did not happen and nothing came out of this discussion.
What about elections for Congress president in September 2022? Will it be held?
In January 2013, when the Congress's Chintan Shivir was held in Jaipur, Rahul Gandhi was elected Congress vice president.
This time, the Congress has spoken in multiple voices about the outcome of the Chintan Shivir.
For example, Rahul said he is ready to shoulder any responsibility given to him by the party.
Whereas Uttar Pradesh leader Acharya Pramod Krishnan had earlier said that if Rahul is not interested in leading the party, then Priyanka should lead.
This was an unnecessary statement and reflected a rift between Priyanka and Rahul while the family has always stood as one.
This Chintan Shivir was a lost opportunity as Sonia Gandhi rejected the idea of collective leadership.
She could have come out and said openly that the Congress will have a non-Gandhi as the next president, but she did not do so.
She also did not state for the sake of it that the extraordinary situation demands that Rahul Gandhi should lead the Congress in the 2024 elections.
Now it is highly unlikely that any other Chintan Shivir will be held before the 2024 elections.
Does it mean the Chintan Shivir did not serve any purpose?
It was disappointing on two counts. One is on the leadership issue and second is how the Congress must win elections.
It looks like the Congress is a little conscious about over-relying on regional parties.
They sensed that both the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are trying to compete with the Congress.
Therefore, any decision on forming alliances with regional parties would have weakened the Congress's bargaining position.
Every Congress leader should have asked, where are we going? And how can we win the 2024 elections? They did not do that.
In 2014, the Congress won 44 seats and that went up to 52 seats in 2019.
The question that should have come out at the Chintan Shivir was: Will the Congress be able to win more than 100 Lok Sabha seats in 2024?
This question was not raised and answered at the meeting.
What about the G-23?
It is very disappointing as they made a tame surrender.
Here was the body of senior, experienced and articulate leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Prithivraj Chavan, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Vivek Tankha, Bhupender Singh Hooda and Manish Tewari.
Kapil Sibal did not attend as he had excused himself earlier.
These (G-23) leaders had raised the leadership issue in 2020, but why did they keep quiet in front of 430 selected Congress leaders from all over the country who had come for the Chintan Shivir?
While we can blame the Gandhis for a lot of things, I think dissenters too need to share some blame.
As they say in Urdu poetry, Khuda nay aaj talak uss qaum ki haalat nahi badli; Na ho jisko khayal aap apni haalat badalney ka (God has never helped a community that doesn't think about helping itself).