From introspection to new resolve, when the Congress leadership deftly changed the format of the Udaipur Chintan Shivir, many pertinent questions remained unanswered.
The much talked about “inaccessibility” of Rahul Gandhi, his frequent disappearances, the accountability of the Gandhis, their unilateral ways, the lack of collective decision-making etc, discussions on that were avoided since there was no post-mortem.
Now, days after the Shivir, the same set of issues has blown up in the Congress’s face, with Gujarat leader Hardik Patel listing them in his letter of resignation, which came just three years after the young Patidar face was brought into the party amidst much fanfare in 2019.
The Shivir also resolved to give the party “a young look” by giving representation to youth at all levels in the organisation and bringing them into leadership positions. At 28, Hardik, the working president of the Gujarat Congress, is as young as the Congress can get. And one of his major grouses, voiced by him more than once, was not being given enough of a role in the party.
The Congress leadership and its drum beaters would claim that Hardik has lost his charm and appeal among the Patidar community in the years since he led the Patidar quota agitation. However, that may appear like a case of sour grapes when Hardik is not the first – and most likely not the last – Congressman to leave the party frustrated at lack of opportunities and growth for its young and energetic leaders.
Many of those who have left the Congress in the recent past, in fact, held good posts, with several of them part of Team Rahul. Sushmita Dev was president of the Mahila Congress. R P N Singh and Jitin Prasada were AICC in-charges. Priyanka Chaturvedi was national spokesperson. Jyotiraditya Scindia was a member of the Congress Working Committee.
They were all seen as having left for greener pastures driven by a sense of despair and hopelessness.
In his resignation letter to party president Sonia Gandhi, Hardik took swipes at Rahul directly, saying there was lack of seriousness about all issues – again not a new charge against the party’s de facto president. Hardik talked about the senior leadership being “more engrossed in what messages they had received on their mobile”, being abroad “when the Congress needed leadership”, having reduced the party to “opposing everything” rather than offering alternatives, and letting state leaders be more focused on “ensuring that chicken sandwich for leaders who have come from Delhi is delivered on time”.
Incidentally, at the Udaipur session, the prospect of raising these issues was foreclosed. While these never came up during discussion, soon after the session was over, Rahul returned to Delhi on a special flight with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. At the instance of some leaders, he had, incidentally, taken the train to arrive for the Udaipur session, with much fanfare.
The caveat on one family, one ticket rule at the session was virtually a reiteration that the three Gandhis are here to stay. In his concluding address, Rahul attributed the caveat idea to AICC general secretary K C Venugopal, in a move that didn’t go down well with the ranks.
The Udaipur Shivir also failed to come up with that big idea or provide an alternative vision to the BJP. The focus was on structural reforms in the organisation, that too half-hearted. For instance, there were no satisfactory answers on what should be the counter to the BJP’s Hindutva push. The planned Bharat Yatra can help in propagating the message. But what is the message?
As Hardik said in his letter: “The Congress today has been rejected in almost every state of India because the party and its leadership have not been able to present a basic roadmap to the people.”
While Hardik was not present at the Shivir, some other high-profile lateral entrants were. For instance, Kanhaiya Kumar. He joined the Congress in September. Eight months later, the party is yet to figure out his role and how to utilise him in the organisation. Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani is another recent inductee who attended the Shivir.