With Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi has taken the Congress left of centre

With Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi has taken the Congress left of centre

The 85th Plenary Session of the party nonetheless sent a pure message of the Congress making a tactical shift — from being a party committed to the centrist values to profile it as a New Left outfit

Notwithstanding the dominance of leaders sharing radical, socialist, and communist ideologies, the Congress has since its inception continued to pursue liberal and centrist policies and philosophy. It has never subscribed to the Leftist ideology. Feudal lords, aristocrats, rich farmers, and zamindars controlled and dictated the political system of the party and its functioning.

The 85th Plenary Session of the party nonetheless sent a pure message of the Congress making a tactical shift — from being a party committed to the centrist values to profile it as a New Left outfit. The session also conveyed the message that it was no more a forum for social gathering of the ruling elites and would articulate the aspiration and voices of the people living on the periphery.

To consolidate and institutionalise the gains of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi will launch the second stage of the Yatra. This time, it would be from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat. This has become imperative as the counter-narrative has to be reinforced with strong zeal and thrust. The mission of the New Left must be laid bare to the people who need it the most.

Also read: At political nadir, Congress leaders clinging to Big Brother syndrome

Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress is Left of Centre. In the Nehru era, it was a political compulsion to adopt Left-oriented policies. Indira Gandhi, too, patronised a strong group of Leftist and socialist leaders. This was meant to maintain the progressive and pro-people image of the party.

Nehru was a staunch socialist; he wanted India to be a socialist democratic republic, but unfortunately, he could not prepare a strong band of younger leadership having socialist conviction. The fact cannot be ignored that they did not lay a strong base for the emergence of a Congress with socialist and Leftist ideas and philosophy.

In recent times, Sonia Gandhi, too, as the president of the party, felt the need to have a circle of activists and intellectuals with an affinity for Left-wing political ideology. During the UPA years, Sonia Gandhi headed the National Advisory Council (NAC), derided by critics as a Left-leaning disruptive de-facto power centre. But it could not help her save the party from drowning in the quagmire of corruption. The reason was that the party practically continued to practise the centrist policies.

Congress image refashioned 

The process of refashioning the image and character of the party was set in motion by Rahul Gandhi after he quit the presidentship. But it is after five years that his move has got official consent. It is an open secret that Rahul and his politics were never accepted by the leaders who virtually were the fulcrum of the party. They abhorred his political philosophy and these were the people, more than Narendra Modi, who tried to project him as a politically novice “shahzada”. The fact was kept wrapped in utter secrecy that these elements had in fact helped the BJP trounce the Congress and bring Modi to power. It is worth recalling the outburst of Rahul Gandhi just after the rout of the party in 2019 Lok Sabha election: “Congress leaders did not rally behind me in the fight against BJP.”

Rahul might have been politically immature but he had realised that Congress had no future with these leaders designing and dictating the political course. Coincidentally, the abysmal performance of the Left in the 2019 Lok Sabha and its eroding support base had made Rahul conscious of the reality that country needed a party to reflect the desires of the poor and downtrodden and the Congress in the prevailing situation should project itself as the New Left. The political turmoil prevailing at that time had raised the questions of relevance of the Left parties and their future discourse in mainstream politics.

Also read: Rahul Gandhi: ‘My arrogance was wiped out after first month of Bharat Jodo Yatra’

While Rahul was exploring new political dynamics and dimension, the traditional leadership came out with the proposal to pursue soft Hindutva to reclaim its political ground. Nevertheless, it later became clear that pursuing this line was sort of committing hara-kiri and walking into the trap of the RSS and BJP. This utterly foolish political line not only decimated the party in the political arena, but also put a big question mark on the credibility and secular and socialist credential of the party.

To salvage of the situation, the party was left with no option but to evolve a new set of policies, principles, and programmes, which must reflect its ideological and political commitment. During the time of the Manmohan Singh government, the party had pressed for some anti-poverty programmes and one of them was the NREGA. In a way, these programmes were the instruments of defeating manoeuvres of capitalism. The programmes that otherwise should have been initiated by the Left were implemented by the Congress, going back to its basics, the masses.

Congress has learnt a bitter truth

The deliberations at the 85th Plenary of the party in Chhattisgarh makes it explicit that party has learnt the bitter truth of forming alliances and joint fronts. All the parties active in Indian politics are not secular and do not believe in the tenet of socialist thought. Some of them represent typical rightist orientation. Simply being opposed to BJP does not imply that they are pro-people or anti-rightist forces.

If one is to believe what Mallikarjun Kharge said about forming an alliance at the Plenary, it is clear that it will not like to have a Rightist force as its ally. Second, instead of forming a broader alliance at the national level, it would prefer to have electoral partners based on the political situation at the respective state level. This would not force the Congress to sacrifice its ideological and philosophical line and would help the party maintain its independent political and ideological stand, which it should effectively bring to the people.

Watch: Rahul Gandhi meets tribal family after Bharat Jodo Yatra

With the RSS-controlled BJP coming to power in 2014, he became conscious that there was an imperative need to resurrect the party ideologically. Mere cosmetic changes would not suffice; the party needed basic structural reforms. After taking over as the party president, he not only inducted such activists into his core group, but he also seeks the advice of Left-leaning intellectuals. In the recent past, close to 100 Left-leaning activists, student leaders, and theatre personalities joined the Congress in the presence of UP Congress president Raj Babbar in Lucknow. He had even met them at his 12 Tughlaq Lane residence in New Delhi.

The way Bharat Jodo Yatra was launched from Tamil Nadu on September 7, it strengthened the belief that Rahul had decided to take a left turn. Notwithstanding the Yatra turning Congress into the main opposition, it also projected it as the main left of centre party. Though the CPM pledged moral support to the Yatra, it spent nearly 10 days in Kerala, drawing criticism from CPM leaders, who accused Rahul of trying to erode the base of a fraternal party.

The real aim of the Yatra

One perceivable thing is that most political leaders and experts have failed to comprehend the real character and mission of the Yatra. They took it as an instrument to rejuvenate the Congress and prepare it for electoral battle. But they were wrong. Rahul ventured to set a counter-narrative to the BJP’s narrative of politics of hatred. Unless it is achieved, it would be foolhardy to believe that people would come out openly against the BJP. That Rahul has succeeded in his mission was endorsed by the massive turnout in Srinagar.

Also read: After Bharat Jodo, Rahul may go on ‘smaller, multi-modal’ east-west yatra

For institutionalising and giving a concrete shape to his strategy, the Plenary has decided to move a bill against hatred in parliament. The people who were initially sceptical of the character and success of the Yatra are now admiring Rahul for carrying out an unprecedented social experiment that may alter domestic politics centred around polarisation and communal politics.

After a long time, the Congress is being perceived by people as a credible pro-people force, the credit for which should certainly be given to Rahul Gandhi. It is a gain for ideological conviction of Rahul that parties that have been traditionally anti-Congress extended their support to the Yatra. Many die-hard anti-Congress academic and other forces participated in the rally. The new Congress has emerged as the rallying point for anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, and Left-inclined forces.

Also read: Will Bharat Jodo Yatra pivot Congress back to electoral glory in 2024?

It would be wrong to say that the Bharat Jodo Yatra reformed and refurbished Rahul’s image. It was the process and concept of the mission that helped him. What is noticeable is that the Yatra has projected Rahul as the new Leftist ideologue for the Congress. That it has succeeded in bringing about a change in the political narrative is manifest in its checking RSS and BJP’s political narrative. Rahul himself confessed, “The yatra has achieved something fundamental, very powerful and what the yatra has done cannot be changed. It has shown that there are two visions of India, one is hate-filled, arrogant, and cowardly and another is love-filled, embracing, and brave. It has made these two visions absolutely crystal clear.”

After accomplishing the first phase of his mission, Rahul has undertaken the tough task of galvanising the party and obliterate its image of being the party of feudal, rich, and upper-caste landlords. For the first time in its century-old history, the party has carried out a socio-political revolution by reserving 50 per cent of organisational posts from block to the national level for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and minorities. This is a significant move to liberate the party from the control of the leaders, who implicitly patronised Rightist forces. Apart from this, there will also be a quota of 50 per cent for those below 50 years of age and women.

The number of Congress Working Committee (CWC) members will also be increased from 23 to 35. The caste and age reservations will give a new radical look to the CWC. Youth leaders from SC, ST, OBC and EBC would be the new decision-makers. This has boosted the morale of the party’s rank and file, which was evident in Kharge unfolding the party’s strategy for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The party would have alliances, but the partner would be a like-minded party. This makes a wider difference. The Congress also went beyond criticising the Narendra Modi government and proposed to bring a new law to prevent and punish hate crimes. This is a direct attack on the divisive politics of the RSS and BJP.

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