With Rahul Gandhi put in charge of the 2014 poll campaign, Congress will set out on a unique exercise in Jaipur on Friday seeking to blend youth and experience to evolve a winning formula for the Lok Sabha elections just 16 months away.
The significance of the two-day Chintan Shivir and the AICC meeting that will follow on Sunday is in view of the fact that a section of the Congress is favouring early Lok Sabha elections to coincide with Assembly polls in five states by end of the year.
Modi, a major talking point
Narendra Modi is expected to emerge as a major talking point with his electoral hattrick in Gujarat with a CWC member saying that a discussion on current Indian politics cannot take place without direct or indirect mention of the BJP leader.
Party chief Sonia Gandhi along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will utilise the meet to reach out to the middle class as also to evolve approaches that could appeal to the youth as the voter profile is increasingly turning young.
Incidentally, Congress under Rajiv Gandhi had brought down the voting age from 21 to 18.
Youth will be the flavour of the season at Jaipur with Congress having invited as many as 160 odd young delegates who have been office bearers of the Indian Youth Congress and the NSUI. This is for the first time, that such a high representation is being given to youth at such meets.
Discussion on DBT
Party leaders are also banking heavily on government’s recent initiative on Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) to ensure that subsidies under various central schemes reach in form of cash directly to the accounts of beneficiaries.
Mr. Rahul Gandhi, who has involved Youth Congress leaders in a big way for implementation of DBT, had told them that if this programme was pushed properly, Congress can win not only this but even the next elections.
Consensus on various issues will form part of the draft ‘Jaipur Declaration’ which will be adopted by the AICC meeting having 1000 odd delegates on Sunday. It will also form the future course of action to face the electoral challenge.
The year will witness Assembly elections in nine states including some states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where BJP is in power for the last decade.
Repeat of Shimla meet?
The Congress conclave could be a repeat of its Shimla meet nine years ago on the issue of political alliances with the party deciding against going it alone in the next Lok Sabha elections.
The general opinion at Shimla in 2003 was unity of secular forces as Congress was getting ready for the first experiment of sharing power at the Centre after 8 years in the opposition.
Ms. Sonia Gandhi’s opening remarks at the Chintan Shivir on Friday will set the tone of the brainstorming session being attended by some 350 invitees in this desert state, where Congress is in power and is facing Assembly polls later this year.
After Ms. Gandhi’s address, the meeting will break into five different groups deliberating on various issues including Emerging Political Challenges and Organisational Strength.
The Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi will address the AICC meeting and they along with the Congress Chief would be participating in different sub groups for a brief period.
The sub-group on emerging political challenges headed by A.K. Antony has decided to focus the discussion on four points -- major strategic challenges before 2014 elections, coalition in states, connecting with middle classes and greater synchronisation between the functioning and ideas of the government.
In 2013 too, the emphasis is on alliances as party leaders are talking of formation of a UPA-III and AICC is in search of new friends and allies to retain power.
AICC has already given indications that it was going into an alliance mode. Congress is aiming at formation of UPA-III with realignment of secular forces and “some kind of inside or outside support” from Left parties and JD-U.
Congress has lost its sixth Assembly elections in Gujarat in a row. It is the latest addition to a list of states where the party has not been in power for about two decades or more.
The issue is expected to dominate the party’s brainstorming session, party leaders say.
Party leaders have been claiming that while the party will retain its old allies and friends, it is “not averse” to new alliances in states as per the need and local demand.
Rise of regional parties
At the brainstorming session, a major concern for Congress is the rise of regional parties. The country has seen the emergence of regional leaders like Ms. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Ms. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu, Ms. Mayawati and Mr. Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Mr. Naveen Patnaik in Odisha.
The immediate concern for Congress is the rise of Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh, the only major state where Congress is in power on its own. The separate Telangana issue has made the situation more complex for the party in Andhra Pradesh.
The southern state is strategically important for Congress given the fact that spectacular victory in Andhra Pradesh in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls had been the game changer for UPA.
There will be discussion on five topics in Jaipur, the most keenly watched to be those on emerging political challenges and organisational strength. The other topics for discussion are emerging socio-economic challenges, India and the world and empowerment of women.