Congress Hyderabad meet: Telangana, Lok Sabha polls on agenda
The conclave is expected to discuss the decisions taken during talks of the Opposition’s 28-party INDIA coalition, including the thorny issue of seat-sharing arrangements in many states
By deciding to convene the first meeting of its recently reconstituted working committee in Hyderabad on September 16 and 17, the Congress party has signalled a new-found confidence in its electoral prospects in Telangana, where the party was seen to be struggling for survival until earlier this year.
The deliberations at the CWC meeting, however, will be far more wide-ranging than the immediate challenges that the party faces in the poll-bound state as the Congress leadership is likely to chart out strategies and programmes that would make their organisation battle-ready for the crucial Lok Sabha election next year.
As many as 150 party leaders across the country are expected to participate in the two-day long CWC discussions. On September 16, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge will preside over a meeting of the 39 regular members of the CWC while the following day, permanent and special invitees to the party’s highest decision-making body will join the deliberations, along with the four chief ministers of the party, chiefs of the Congress Legislature Party and the party’s state units from across state assemblies and members of the party’s parliamentary strategy group. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who have permanent seats as regular CWC members on account of being former party presidents, will be attending the meetings on both days.
Eyes Telangana polls
Ordinarily, CWC meetings are held at the party’s national headquarters in Delhi except when they are organised as part of the party’s plenary or brainstorming sessions which are held in different parts of the country once every few years.
Hyderabad as the venue for the first meeting of Kharge’s revamped CWC, Congress communications department chief Jairam Ramesh said, was chosen “purposely to set the tone for the ensuing assembly election”. After the meeting of the extending CWC, on September 17, Kharge, Sonia, Rahul and other senior leaders will address a massive rally in Thukkuguda, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, where the Congress will unveil its “six guarantees” for people of the poll-bound state, Ramesh said.
Congress insiders told The Federal that the CWC discussions will focus on chalking out a blueprint for the party’s electoral preparations, including organisational reforms that had been given a go-ahead at the AICC Plenary Session held in Raipur in February, for the five Assembly polls due in Telangana, MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram in October-November, as well as for the Lok Sabha elections.
“The meeting is being held in Hyderabad but discussions will cover a very wide array of issues and naturally they will be oriented towards our electoral preparedness for the Lok Sabha polls. The political landscape has changed a lot since the plenary session. We have a still-evolving but formidable coalition of the Opposition and things are also looking far better for the Congress after the Bharat Jodo Yatra and our Karnataka win than they were a year ago. Since the CWC has been revamped and there are now a lot many more members from state-level politics, different caste and community groups and younger leaders, there is much that needs to be discussed and I am sure we will have very exhaustive discussions,” a CWC member told The Federal.
The CWC members are also expected to discuss the decisions taken during talks of the Opposition’s 28-party INDIA coalition, including the thorny issue of what formula the party’s top leadership has in mind for coming to a seat-sharing arrangement with INDIA partners in states such as Bengal, UP, Punjab, Delhi, Bihar and Maharashtra where they will have to share the electoral turf with demanding allies.
Bharat Jodo Yatra effect
There are also murmurs that the CWC will discuss the feasibility of the second leg of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra spanning from the country’s East to West. The first BJY was conducted from September 2022 to January 2023 and had covered 12 states and two Union Territories on the south-to-north axis. The demand by party leaders and workers, alike, for Rahul to embark on a second leg of the cross-country padyatra had started even before the first leg of the yatra concluded in Srinagar on January 30. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had earlier indicated that BJY 2.0 from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh would be launched later during the current year and would be conducted under a “hybrid model” (not a foot-march in its entirety).
A section of party leaders believes that though the Kanyakumari to Srinagar BJY had revitalised the party cadre and succeeded in amping up Rahul’s political profile and acceptability, the momentum had begun to wane, particularly in states such as UP, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Bengal and Punjab which were either excluded entirely from the yatra’s route or were covered only for a brief period.
Rahul raring to go
Rahul has often suggested that he is raring to go for a second leg of the marathon walk. His party has been claiming that the yatra is ongoing given his recent visits to Ladakh or the interactions he had with farmers, vegetable vendors, civil services aspirants, mechanics and truck drivers in different parts of Delhi and Haryana. However, several party leaders feel that with the Lok Sabha polls due in fewer than six months, the Congress showing signs of electoral revival with victories in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka and being hopeful of similar wins in the five states that are due for elections later this year, Rahul must seize the moment.
“The first BJY was meant to be purely a tool for rejuvenating our party through public outreach and Rahul used it to express his vision of what politics should be about – communal and social bonhomie, inclusive development and better handling of socio-economic challenges. The second BJY, if the party agrees on it, must have a more electoral slant because we are now just six months away from a make-or-break Lok Sabha election. The BJY succeeded in setting a narrative that the BJP could not counter and we have to make sure that we amplify that narrative further keeping the electoral challenges in mind,” another CWC member told The Federal.
A section of party leaders also seems to be of the view that if Kharge and the Gandhis agree to launch a second BJY, the yatra must start after the assembly polls for MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram conclude.
“During the BJY elections were held in Himachal and Gujarat but the party was more focussed on making the yatra a success and so, it appeared like we had given the BJP a walk-over in Gujarat while in Himachal, Priyanka Gandhi had to do all the heavy lifting. If we are to launch a second BJY, my suggestion would be that we do it after the assembly elections so that our resources are not split between the elections and the yatra and Rahul is also able to campaign extensively in the states as he did in Karnataka. Jairam Ramesh had said BJY 2.0 would be hybrid which means it will not be a padyatra from the east to the west. If that is the plan then I think if Rahul start in December after the poll results, he will be able to conclude it by February, which would be just before the Lok Sabha poll schedule is announced. It will be the best timing,” a senior Congress functionary said.
Given that the coordination committee of the INDIA coalition, of which the Congress is a member, has also set the ball rolling for finalising the nuances of the electoral blueprint that the alliance must follow, a number of CWC members are hopeful that Kharge and the Gandhis will take them into confidence on how the party plans to proceed further.
“None of the committees of the alliance have Congress leaders who are directly involved with electoral politics in different states. It is absolutely necessary that the leadership spells out at the CWC its position on issues like seat-sharing because in states like Punjab and Delhi our leaders may have very strong views regarding this issue which will be different from the views our leaders in Bihar or Maharashtra have. Alliances would mean give and take, which naturally has repercussions on our existing electoral footprint. We can’t have a situation where, in the spirit of coalition dharma, we give up claim on more seats than is desirable or politically advisable,” said a senior party leader from Punjab, where the state Congress unit is stridently opposed to any seat-sharing arrangement with Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP, an INDIA constituent.