In Chintan Shivir, Cong ponders narratives to revive ‘endangered’ social justice politics
As BJP embeds social justice politics into Hindutva agenda, stripping Dalits, Adivasis and backward castes of their identity, Congress plans to revive it by reaching out to castes and minority groups .
It is widely acknowledged that the decline in the Congress party’s electoral footprint began as a direct result of its inability to effectively counter the policy of ‘Mandal’ (social justice) and ‘Kamandal’ (Hindutva affirmation of right) which began in the 1980s. More than three decades on, as Narendra Modi’s BJP seeks to overwhelm post-Mandal-era caste-affirmation politics among Dalits, Adivasis and backward castes in its ever-growing Hindutva Kamandal , Congress is desperately hoping that a reboot of social justice politics will help it recover lost political ground.
At the current party nav sankalp chintan shivir in Udaipur, Rajasthan, various proposals envisioning a new narrative for social justice and empowerment are being considered by senior party leaders. The party’s Social Justice and Empowerment Panel, led by top leader Salman Khurshid, is formalizing its recommendations for submission to the Congress Working Committee on Sunday (May 15). If accepted, these suggestions will form part of the Udaipur Congress declaration whose party hopes to reverse electoral losses and organizational drift in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from the issue of reservation for youth, SC, ST, OBC and minorities in party positions and the socio-cultural scope of the Congress, contentious issues such as the constitution of a parliamentary council for collective decision-making, five-year fixed term followed by a three-year term cool-down period for officers, age limit cap for RS, LS and assembly tickets at 75, youth reservation, all this will be discussed at the CWC. The organizers of the six coordination panels – Mallikarjun Kharge (political issues), P. Chidambaram (economics), Mukul Wasnik (organisation), Salman Khurshid (social justice and empowerment), Bhupinder Hooda (farmers and agriculture) and Amarinder Singh Raja Warring ( youth empowerment) – submitted their reports to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Focus on outreach to minorities
It is particularly important to suggest that the party should not only unequivocally support the longstanding demand for a socio-economic caste census, but also ensure that within the organization a 50% reserve is made for Dalits, Adivasi, OBCs and minorities in nominations at all levels – stand up to AICC and CWC.
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Party leader K Raju, a close associate of former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, told reporters in Udaipur that the Social Empowerment Advisory Group is also of the view that Congress needs to set up a ” Social Justice Advisory Council” that would provide regular feedback to the Congress leader on what the party needs to do for the weaker and traditionally oppressed sections of society.
“Many organizational reforms are needed to show the SC, ST, OBC and minorities that the party is committed to their cause… the establishment of a social justice advisory council, 50% reserved for these communities at all levels of the party and a special session of Congress every six months devoted entirely to the issues facing these groups is among the general recommendations we plan to make to the CWC tomorrow,” Raju said.
Taking a cue from the BJP’s strategy of not just reaching out to Dalits and backward castes at the macro level, but engaging with them by identifying sub-castes among these global blocs and then giving them representation, the Congress also wants to ensure that numerically small castes among Dalits, OBCs and Tribals also enjoy proportional representation in Congress and its governments.
At the political level, Raju said that Congress must also launch a campaign to demand central legislative sanction for SC/ST sub-plans for the allocation of funds for programs aimed at these communities and replicate the same in both. States he currently leads, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
33% reservation for women and more
Another important suggestion that came from the panel is that the party must support, with renewed aggression, their demand for the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill. The UPA government had, in 2009, succeeded in getting the bill passed by the Lok Sabha, but its failure to reach a consensus, even among its coalition partners, led to the blocking of the bill in the Rajya Sabha.
Now, with women making up a significant portion of the BJP’s vote bank, Congress wants to renew its demand to pass the bill that provides 33% reservation for women in Parliament and state legislatures. However, with this push also comes a major departure from the stated position of Congress in 2009.
At the time it introduced the bill in parliament, Congress opposed the introduction of a “quota within quota” to give proportional representation to women in the SC, ST and OBC communities. Khurshid said the party is now of the view that while renewing its demand for the reservation of women, it will demand a “quota within the quota”. “It’s not a U-turn or a change of position. At the time, we had coalition constraints and the view then was that we might not achieve consensus among allies or other parties on granting quota within the quota so let’s start, at least, by clearing the 33% reserve now our situation is different and so is the current political climate and we believe we can push for a quota within the quota said Khurshid.
Social engineering formula to seduce caste groups
The steady electoral rise of the BJP has, as several elections over the past eight years have shown, succeeded in shaking the fortunes not only of the Congress, but also of the caste-based Mandal parties by appealing to Dalits, Tribals and backward castes, not just on the board. of their caste identity, but forcing them to see themselves as Hindus.
The saffron party’s success in promoting this narrative was most recently visible in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls where it secured a second consecutive term in demolishing the Congress, the BSP (the natural choice of the Dalits of UP for more than two decades) and even outmaneuvering Samajwadi. Party leader Akhilesh Yadav’s strategy of assembling a coalition of caste-based parties and leaders who claimed to represent communities such as the Pasis, Kushwahas, Rajbhars and others.
Many SC, ST, OBC communities as well as Muslims and other religious minorities had been the traditional vote banks for Congress. However, over the past three decades, he has steadily lost each of them to different political outfits. Now, as these outfits lose the same vote banks to the BJP due to their failure to present a new social justice narrative, Congress feels it has an opportunity to appeal to the electorally formidable caste groups thanks to a formula of social engineering that has social justice at its heart.
The “pro-Muslim-anti-Hindu” conundrum
Yet amid this experience, what stands out as poor thinking about the party is also its ambiguity about how it wants to engage with the country’s largest religious minority – Muslims. That Muslims were fiercely persecuted and selectively targeted under Modi’s Hindutva regime is common knowledge. However, the fear of being called pro-Muslim, and thus, by the well-advanced BJP argument, of being anti-Hindu, has forced the Congress not to go beyond superficial expressions of solidarity with the community whenever its members face anger. vicious elements of Hindutva or the state.
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Sources said that in intra-party talks over the past two days, leaders were still divided on how Congress should reach out to the Muslim community. “As a party that calls itself secular, it is our duty to defend the rights of Muslims. Sonia Gandhi has made it clear that they are equal citizens of our Republic and face persecution under the current regime. But then there is a significant portion of influential leaders who believe that by firmly championing the cause of Muslims in the current vicious environment of communal hatred, we will ultimately alienate the Hindu majority. So it’s a complicated thing for us and we don’t have clear answers on how to do it at the moment,” a senior party official said. The Federaladding that “for now, we will talk about the rights of religious minorities, without singling out Muslims but hopefully we can develop a more nuanced approach”.