In the history of Congress’s chintan shivirs over the last two-and-a-half decades, the Pachmarhi session and the Shimla conclave — in 1998 and 2003, respectively — stand out for the diametrically opposite positions the party took on the issue of coalition and alliances.
In the ongoing session at Udaipur, too, the party seems to be ambivalent.
The reason: the party is much weakened and the popular opinion within is that the Congress has to regain its strength electorally before calling for opposition unity or rallying of anti-BJP parties.
Mallikarjun Kharge, convenor of the group discussing the party’s political line and position, was forthright on Friday.
“First, we want to set right our house, and we want to make Congress people more active and powerful. Then we will go to others (parties). If you don’t have any investment, which partner will come (and say) that I will invest some money on you,” Kharge told the media.
He said: “…whatever deficiencies are there…those things will be discussed. With some proposal we will come forward and whosoever accepts these principles we will go with them. We want to strengthen ourselves, and we want to unite our cadre — from block level, panchayat- and mandal-level…to the district level, we want to gain strength and then talk to others…”
As for an alliance against BJP, Kharge said the party wants to take everyone along — “we will walk with those who believe in the secular fabric and constitutional values”. But first, he added, “we want to set our own house in order”.
At Pachmarhi, the party had declared that it considers the “present difficulties in forming one-party governments a transient phase in the evolution of our polity”. It asserted that “coalitions will be considered only when absolutely necessary, and that too on the basis of agreed programmes that will not weaken the party or compromise its basic ideology”.
In Shimla, five years later, the party gave a signal for unity of secular forces.
Kharge said this session will give out a clear message that nationalism and love for India is the Congress’s core philosophy.
“This is a fight between Indian nationalists versus pseudo nationalists,” he said. “Those who stand with the principles of the Congress represent the Indian way of life and thought, which has sustained this civilisation for 3,000 years. Not the fake nationalism of BJP (and) RSS. It is the Congress party that adheres to the Indian path of rejecting all extremes. This Chintan Shivir will usher in a clear message that nationalism and love for India is the core philosophy of the Congress.”
He said the political challenge before Congress is five-fold.
“First, we have to retrieve our rich legacy and heritage to inspire the youth. Second, we need to redefine our ideology to reassure party workers and supporters. Third, we have to reaffirm our commitment to the Constitution — of ensuring liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; the federal structure; (taking along) the poorest and the most oppressed in the society.
“Fourth, we have to reclaim the Indian way of life and what it means to be an Indian. Fifth, we need to reinvent our politics to transform the party, society and the nation, including politics as a form of social service; how we connect to people on issues that matter to them; how we raise funds from people; how we tackle lies and distortions; and how we can lead initiatives that bring people together.”