Why Congress should look at Pachmarhi and Shimla to boast its electoral chances

Why Congress should look at Pachmarhi and Shimla to boast its electoral chances

Why Congress should look at Pachmarhi and Shimla to boast its electoral chances

The Congress is going to hold a ‘Chintan Shivir’ (introspection conclave) between 13 and 15 May at Udaipur in Rajasthan to evaluate its current situation and the way forward to extricate itself from the labyrinth it finds itself in. In short, the Chintan Shivir will deliberate on the broad strategy of the party for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

However, the larger question is whether this conclave would be a mere exercise in reiterating show of loyalty to the first family, or an honest analysis of the factors which has put the party in a bottomless pit. If the party’s conscience keepers are truly interested in saving the house, the Udaipur session should revisit the resolutions of two such earlier sessions viz. Pachmarhi (1998) and Shimla (2003) and find an answer for the ills plaguing the party today.

Political scientist Thomas Hobbes in his famous treatise Leviathan writes, “The greatest difficulty about the right of succession is in monarchy: and the difficulty ariseth from this, that at first sight, it is not manifest who is to appoint the successor.” This is the biggest challenge before the Congress today — challenge of succession. It arises from the fact that the heir apparent are defeated generals not showing the capacity to engage the mighty opponents even in a decent duel. The second is, will the family allow someone else on the steering wheel.

In 1998, soon after Sonia Gandhi was anointed as party president, a similar session was held between 4 and 6 September at Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh. The flavour of the Pachmarhi session was captured in Sonia Gandhi inaugural address, which mentioned, “Electoral reverses are inevitable and are, in themselves, not cause for worry. But what is disturbing is the loss of our social base, of the social coalition that supports us and looks up to us. What is also worrisome is that intra-party discord seems to take up so much of our time and energy when it ought to be channelised for working together to regain popular support and public credibility.”

Congress Working Committee meeting chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday. Twitter/ @INCIndia

In 2022, the party is in a state of déjà vu, facing the same challenges as in 1998. Problems continue because the Congress decided to abandon the resolutions of Pachmarhi five years later at Shimla. According to Dr SC Vats, who as the then secretary of the AICC was convenor of the committee organising the session, “Pachmarhi was clear that the party cannot survive for long on the charisma of its leaders alone and that it needed to strengthen the organisation at every level.”

Pachmarhi was very particular about the party standing on its own and not ceding turf to partner parties for short-term political gains. “This was abandoned in Shimla in 2003, and from there the fall of the party began,” adds Vats. Called Shimla Sankalp (Shimla Pledge), read out on 9 July 2003, the resolution spelt out in clear terms the desire to walk the path for coalition for the sake of gaining power, though sugar coating it as willingness of the party to lead a coalition of “progressive thinking men and women, institutions and political movements who share our understanding of India’s past, our concerns with India's present and our vision of India's future to join us in this historic endeavour”.

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The change of path in Shimla was done only to bring the Congress to power at the Centre sooner than later. Pachmarhi was dumped despite the fact that it had helped the party strengthen its organisation in states, where the Congress won several Assembly polls.

The Shimla strategy did lead to the unseating of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2004, to be replaced by a Sonia Gandhi-led United Progressive Alliance government with Manmohan Singh as the prime minister. This arrangement worked till 2014, weakening the Congress at the grassroots in the absence of a political prime minister. The defeat of the party in the Lok Sabha polls showcased the fact that its organisation has been maimed by a moth-eaten leadership.

However, ‘hard work’ put in by siblings Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the stocks of the Congress have just refused to rise on the political index. At Pachmarhi, the party had resolved to revive its organisation in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. A quarter of a century later, the Congress has further weakened in these states and become insignificant not just in these states but also added to the list West Bengal and Delhi.

File image of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. PTI

Pachmarhi also prescribed free and fair elections at all levels of the party as an elixir to revive the organisation. An idea which was pronounced with loud sound but renounced without making any noise.

Another very relevant shortcoming pointed out at Pachmarhi was the waning understanding of the party's ideology and ambiguity vis-à-vis political, social and economic policies. The political resolution at Pachmarhi clearly said that in addition to charismatic leadership and strong organisation, the party needed an ideology which would have the youth of the country on board and create trust in the party.

Ironically, if we look at the Bharatiya Janata Party of today, it has all the attributes which the Pachmarhi session prescribed for Congress—a charismatic leader in Narendra Modi, a very strong party organisation and clarity about its ideological commitments.

The upcoming Udaipur session could take a lesson or two from BJP on how the latter put itself back into the driver's seat after being ousted in 2004 and thereafter losing a flurry of state elections. The BJP also entered into alliances but unlike Congress, it has not lost turf to partners but gained in strength in the states Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and of course Maharashtra. It managed to do so by keeping the organisation in fine fettle and clarity about aims and objectives.

It’s unlikely that the Congress at Udaipur would look beyond making quick electoral gains. The rules of business are that profits only come on investments, it’s unlikely that the Congress would invest in rebuilding the organisation. In that case electoral profits would remain a distant mirage.

The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice. Views expressed are personal.

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