Three-and-a-half months after its humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress on Thursday decided to launch its first countrywide agitation against the BJP government. The agitation will begin more than a month later.
Chairing her first meeting with top party leaders after returning as Congress president, Sonia Gandhi asked them to go to people directly, saying it is “not enough to be active and aggressive on social media” alone.
Sonia said the situation in election-bound states of Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana is “challenging” and argued “it is only if we keep party interests and nothing other than party interests uppermost in our minds that we will regain our lost position”.
The Congress said the meeting was of general secretaries, state in-charges, state Congress presidents and Congress legislature party leaders. However, leaders like A K Antony, who hold none of these posts, were present. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi did not attend the meeting.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is said to have argued that in some states the youth are receptive to the Congress, but are reluctant in many states like Uttar Pradesh. She said the party should talk more about security of women and issues like jobs, which can appeal to the youth, sources said.
Referring to plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar said the party will be “mistaken” if it tries to harp on its “good old times” and “sacrifices” of its freedom struggle-era leaders and hopes to connect with the youth. He said the celebrations should be rooted and presented “in the present context” so that the youth can relate. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the youth relate mostly to jobs, and argued his government has already provided 9 lakh jobs.
Almost all top leaders spoke about the economic slowdown and the need for an agitation.
In her address, Sonia said there was a prolonged economic slump. She said job losses were mounting, confidence of investors was getting shakier and the government appeared more and more clueless and insensitive. The party then decided to organise a nationwide agitation from October 15 to October 25 on the issue.
Challenge to make a mark on the ground
The Congress was grappling with a leadership crisis in the last few months days. The Lok Sabha poll debacle virtually stripped it of its leverage to marshal opposition parties against the government in the Rajya Sabha. The nationwide agitation is the party’s first tentative step to reconnect with the masses on an issue (economic slowdown) that has bearing across the country. The challenge will be to make the agitation effective on the ground and not just on social media.
Sonia argued that vendetta politics was at its peak. “Each and every institution is being diabolically subverted. The voices of dissent are being silenced. Democracy has never been at greater peril than it is now… The mandate of 2019 is now being misused and abused in a most dangerous fashion,” she said.
Sonia said “we must stand up fearlessly to fight on the streets, fight in villages, towns and cities. We must have a concrete agitational agenda on issues of pressing concern to the people…It is not enough to be active and aggressive on the social media… far more important is to go to the people directly.”
Sonia will meet the party’s chief ministers on Friday. She told the meeting, which was attended by all CMs barring Madhya Pradesh’s Kamal Nath, that the five states where the party is in power “must stand out as examples of sensitive and responsive governance, accountable and transparent administration. We must be seen to be fulfilling our manifesto commitments”.
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