On December 31, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had claimed that a united Opposition could trounce the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls but only if it provided the electorate an “alternative vision” for which a “central ideological framework and structure” could be given “only by the Congress”. Two months later, though Opposition unity may still be a chimera, the Congress has, through six resolutions passed at its 85th Plenary Session, laid down a blueprint not just for its own electoral revival but also for the “alternative vision” that Rahul had called for.
The three-day-long Plenary Session, which concluded in Chhattisgarh’s Nava Raipur on Sunday (February 26), saw the Congress party chalk out resolutions on six overarching subjects – political, economy, international affairs, social justice, farmers and agriculture and youth empowerment – each of which provide a clear glimpse into what is likely to be the foundation of the Grand Old Party’s poll pitch for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Of these, given the sheer electoral base that they appeal to and the attempt they make into carving afresh or broadening an existent voter constituency for the Congress, the most significant proposals are, arguably, laid out in the political, youth empowerment, farmers and agriculture and social justice resolutions – the latter three of which were adopted by the 15,000 delegates at the plenary on Sunday.
The Federal had reported on Saturday (February 25), the second day of the session, that the political resolution, read along with the amendments that the plenary approved in the Congress Constitution, was a definite bid by the GOP to reclaim its vote bank among the Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities, which the party had increasingly lost to the Mandal-era regional caste-based parties and, more recently, even to the BJP. Similarly, a strident bid had also been made to woo women and youth voters, both blocs that the BJP has aggressively courted – and with great success – under the Modi years.
On Sunday, the resolutions of youth empowerment, farmers and agriculture and social justice were adopted at the Plenary Session after an impassioned speech by Rahul, in which he heavily drew on interactions with the oppressed sections of society and the farmers during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. These resolutions outline greater and more specific detail a clear bid by the Congress to revive its electoral fortunes riding on lofty promises of creating a more egalitarian social order.
Among the ‘key promises’ that the social justice resolution makes includes conducting a socio-economic caste census, setting up of a National Council for Social Justice, publication of a “State of Social Justice Report”, along the lines of the National Economic Survey, creating a dedicated ministry for the empowerment of the OBCs, effective implementation of the SC and ST (Preventions of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Additionally, the resolution also states that the “Congress commits to special budgetary allocation to accelerate the development of OBCs” and that, once in power, the Congress would bring a “national legislation to ensure that a portion of the Union budget is earmarked in proportion to the population of SCs and STs in the country, to foster sustainable development of SCs and STs”.
The resolution also makes a renewed push for enacting the Women’s Reservation Bill, but in line with what the Congress had said during its Nav Sankalp Chintan Shivir in Udaipur last May, with an appropriate provision for reserved categories within the 33 per cent quota envisaged for women. Similarly, the social justice resolution commits to tweak the controversial quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) by bringing within its ambit “poor SC, ST, OBCs” and ensuring that the EWS category students “are given age relaxation on par with the age relaxation given to SCs and STs for entering into government services”.
The social justice resolution also promises that if voted to power, the Congress will enact “a special Act called the Rohith Vemula Act to protect and safeguard their right to education and dignity”. A particularly interesting promise made in the social justice resolution is that the Congress, if voted to power, would “consider reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in the higher judiciary” in order to “ensure that the judiciary is reflective of the social diversity of India”. How the higher judiciary, already caught in an acrimonious tussle with the Modi regime and its law minister on the issue of the Collegium, perceives the Congress’s suggestion would be interesting to observe.
Resolution on farmers and agriculture
However, it must be pointed out that the continuing lack of social diversity in the higher judiciary is a matter that has been repeatedly red-flagged by noted legal luminaries as well as human rights defenders who have been frequently critical of the judiciary, particularly the apex, largely being held captive by those belonging to the forward classes and, hence, apathetic towards the extent of oppression and even sentiments of the Dalit, Adivasi and backward communities.
Considering that a vast majority of the Indian population is engaged in agriculture and allied services – a big chunk of them being either farmers, landless farmers or farm labour – the Congress’s resolution on agriculture has also sought to appropriate this caste and community amorphous bloc as a constituency it can tap into.
Among a slew of other promises, the resolution on farmers and agriculture states the Congress’s commitment to make Minimum Support Price (MSP) a “legally enforceable right of the farmers” by making purchase of agricultural produce below MSP “a punishable offense” and promises to extend the MSP regime to “cover all agricultural produce” including horticulture and uncovered crops like ginger, garlic, turmeric, chilli, etc.” and increasing by “at least four times” the MSP for minor forest produce.
The party had already declared in its political resolution on Saturday that it would prepare a Vision Document for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls based on inputs it receives from the grassroots during its mass contact programmes such as the recently concluded Bharat Jodo Yatra – its second leg that is likely to be launched later this year or the ongoing Haath Se Haath Jodo Abhiyan. Party sources told The Federal that promises made in the resolutions adopted at the Plenary Session will be further elaborated upon in this Vision Document, which is also expected to be the party’s poll manifesto for 2024.
It is, undoubtedly, too premature to predict whether, and if at all, the Congress will succeed in reaping electoral dividends from these promises but as an ambitious blueprint, their appeal to a broad social coalition of different castes, communities, genders and religious minorities can’t be brushed aside.