Flush with successes in by-elections in the politically significant Hindi-Hindutwa heartland in North India, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress under its new President Rahul Gandhi, has unveiled an ambitious plan to oust the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in the next parliamentary elections in May 2019, writes P.K.Balachandran in Daily Mirror.
The timing of the re-launch of the Congress is appropriate as BJP-led governments in the Center and the States are beginning to feel the heat of anti-incumbency.
But India’ oldest party has a long way to go, and time is short. As on date, BJP-led alliances are in power in most of the States of North India, including the populous ones which send large numbers of members to parliament.
And the Congress has to be built anew with a new kind of leadership, a new structure, and a new set of ideas to be a clear alternative to the BJP which has developed some unique characteristics under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP of today is more self-confident, well organized and well-funded than ever before. Its single focus is to capture power by any means, and yet it is able to project itself as a party with a well-defined ideology aimed at securing the support of the majority Hindus. Above all, it is led by an exceptionally charismatic leader, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. Further, “Brand Modi”, which is what the BJP is now, has been gaining acceptance in the North-East, well beyond its traditional Hindi-Hindu-North Indian habitat.
Therefore, any alternative to the BJP has to be both in the realm of ideology and the party structure. It is the contours of this alternative that Rahul Gandhi spelt out in his concluding remarks at the 84 th., plenary session of the Congress in New Delhi on last Saturday.
Contrasting Congress From BJP
A self-confident and yet humble Rahul said that the Congress will substitute the BJP’s policies with totally new ones. While BJP’s policies are based on “hate and anger”, Congress’ policies will be based on “love and brotherhood.” The BJP’s policy of Hindutwa (political and cultural primacy of the majority Hindus) will be replaced by a policy giving equal place to “every faith, caste, individual.”
Congress, he said, would strive for communal and caste tolerance and coexistence and eschew the BJP’s policy of sharpening religious divisions and promoting communal hatred to win elections and keep itself in power. The lynching of Muslims for eating beef or selling cows for slaughter had become commonplace in the North Indian States ruled by the BJP.
There are attempts by the BJP’s ideological wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), to infiltrate all institutions, especially educational and research institutions to change the mental makeup of Indians to wean them away from their historical legacy of tolerance.
The Congress, on the contrary, would respect all faiths and ideologies and not criminalize disparate thinking ,Rahul said. Explaining his visits to Hindu temples in Gujarat during the last State Assembly elections, which critics said were a fake show of devotion to Hinduism to wean away Hindu votes from the BJP, Rahul said that he had been going to Hindu temples in the past too. But he had also visited mosques and churches, as he believes that God is everywhere. India belongs to all, irrespective of religion or caste, he added.
Unlike the BJP under Modi, the Congress will fulfill its promises, Rahul said. Modi had promised the earth, one of his promises being that the billions of dollars of black money stacked away abroad would be unearthed and brought back to India, and INR 15 lakh would be put into every Indian’s bank account. But nothing of this kind has happened. On the contrary, Modi’s draconian Goods and Services Tax, with the highest rates in the world, coupled with his demonetization of 85% of the currency hit trade, investment and employment.
The Congress President pointed out that instead of fulfilling his promises to the people, Modi is rubbing shoulders with corrupt corny capitalists like Nirav Modi. Rahul promised that the Congress will honor its commitments to the people. And if mistakes are made, it will apologize publicly, unlike Modi and the BJP, which are too arrogant to do so. It is human to err and if an error had been committed, a public apology is called for, Rahul said.
While unemployment and farmers’ distress have become India’s most pressing problems, Modi tries to divert attention from them by launching fancy programs unrelated to the needs of the people, such as performing yoga in public places, Rahul charged.
New Economic Plank
In contrast to the BJP, which has not brought about investment despite its ‘Make in India’ slogan, a Congress government will generate employment by encouraging small and medium industries to come up at the district level, Rahul said. These industries will use locally available talent and resources and bank credit for them will be ensured. He promised loan waiver for farmers burdened by debt, which has led to 2500 suicides to date. “Food parks” will be set up in every district where farmers can being their perishable produce, get guaranteed prices and have their produce processed to enhance their shelf life.
Over to Youth
Rahul said that the Congress will be led by the youth. The wall dividing the leaders from the workers will be broken down. But this will be done without alienating the senior leaders from whom there is a lot the young can learn, he added.
Symbolizing the new party structure, Rahul did away with the practice of having all the top leaders sit on the dais, while the workers squat below. The dais was empty but for a podium for the speaker. Rahul said that he hoped that soon, the empty stage will be filled by talented youth from every part of India. He promised that from now on, work done for the party and not spending power will be the criterion for giving party nominations in elections.
Urging party cadres to get into electoral battles with courage and not be intimidated by an aggressive BJP, Rahul said that the Congress party is known for showing courage in the face of adversity. Thousands upon thousands led by Mahanta Gandhi, had gone to jail during the independence movement while V.D.Savarkar, an icon of the BJP, was pleading with the British to release him from jail, he recalled.
In the context of the killing of liberal and secular journalists like Gauri Lankesh, Rahul said that the Congress will give the media the fullest freedom and that whenever the media is harassed, the Congress will rush to its aid.
Meeting China’s Challenge
Rahul avoided foreign affairs, but mentioned the challenge from China in the economic sphere as it affects local industries and local employment. He pointed that China is increasing its economic hold on the countries in the South Asian region and that Indian markets are awash with China-made goods. Rich Indian businessmen are minting money by importing Chinese goods while Indian manufacturers are starved of bank loans and burdened with GST, he charged.
But a Congress government will not shun China or “fight” with it, he said. “We will compete with China in a friendly way”, he assured.
The Congress President said that the world today has before it two alternative models to emulate – the American and the Chinese. But there is scope for a third model, the Indian model which is at once growth oriented and democratic, he said. The Congress will develop this model for the world to follow.