Chintan Shivir and road ahead

Semi Column

The Congress Chintan Shivir in Jaipur later this month may be more about ironing out governance and organisational inconsistencies than addressing ideological divergences for the party's political advancement in short and long terms. This is for the simple reason that the party has now been in power in the Centre for the last eight years.

Foremost, of course, will be the question about where the party stands on the corruption issue. The larger message from recent protests that has struck a chord with the people has been a source of constant worry for the leadership. Sonia Gandhi has tried her best to convey a strong message of course correction, from issuing austerity dictats to the cadre to her refusal to intervene when even leaders from allies were put behind bars. The image of the political class in the public, though, has not improved much.

The debate on whether left-of-the-centre leaders in the party are really losing the policy battle with the pro-reforms and pro-liberalisation groups within will also have to be taken up earnestly. At the Pachmarhi Shivir in 1998, the first that was held under Sonia's leadership, the late Rajesh Pilot and Vyalar Ravi had stood up firmly against the pro-reforms groups, submitting separate papers on addressing economic challenges. The party will stand to gain if more Pilots and Ravis emerge from the shadows in Jaipur. Such a balance would also help ensure stable governments where allies are not compelled to quit on grounds of policy differences.

The Pachmarhi Shivir had failed to take a clear stand on coalitions. Pranab Mukherjee then had singlehandedly led the party to take the stand that "coalitions are a passing phase". It was only at the second Shivir in Shimla in 2003, that the party finally opened itself to coalitions, as a result of which it came to power in 2004. In Jaipur, this position now needs to be honed further to ensure it is able to strike stable, near permanent coalitions.

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