Party clumsily handled the street protests following gang rape
If those under 40 will dominate the Congress’ much-awaited chintan shiver on January 18, 19 and 20 in Jaipur, with 167 of the 350-odd invitees falling in that demographic, the party has now decided, in the wake of the countrywide protests triggered by the horrific gang rape and brutalisation of a young paramedical intern in Delhi, to add a special session on women’s issues, as it gears up for a slew of State polls this year followed by the general elections in 2014.
The discussion paper being prepared will focus not just on safety and security but on the status of women, on the way forward towards their educational, social, economic, legal and political empowerment, a senior party source told The Hindu. The importance of passing the long-pending Bill on reservation for women in legislatures will be foregrounded in the paper. In 2010, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government succeeded in pushing the Women’s Reservation Bill through in the Rajya Sabha but failed to do so in the Lok Sabha.
For the beleaguered Congress, its failure to deal sympathetically with the anger on the streets, especially among women, not just in the capital but across the country following the violation of a 23-year-old woman, who finally died as a result of her grievous injuries, has added to its woes. As the party fumbled in making an adequate political response to the protests, with just a couple of its leaders daring to meet the protesters and make a couple of statements, the Congress has now belatedly realised that it needs to do some damage control — and hence the discussion. The paper will not only underscore the party’s historical commitment to the uplift of women, the series of laws passed by the UPA government for women as also a promise to ensure that it will do more.
Already, three meetings have been held by a sub-committee on women’s issues — one on Wednesday and two on Thursday. Its members are Union Ministers M. Veerappa Moily, Jairam Ramesh, Jayanthi Natarajan, Krishna Tirath and Congress chief whip Girija Vyas.
When Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced a chintan shivir during the plenary session at Burari in December 2010, what she had in mind was a special conclave on the lines of the Pachmarhi Vichar Manthan Shivir and the Shimla Chintan Shivir to give the leadership a forum on which to introspect on and “refresh its perspectives on crucial national issues and review the functioning of the organisation,” and set up a “professional party think tank to be run on institutional lines.” The Congress, she said at that time, had always been “a party of ideas, responding to changing political and economic circumstances.” Now that time has come.
Ms. Gandhi also stressed at Burari, “It will be an occasion to hear the voices of our colleagues, particularly the younger ones, to bring new energy to our thinking.” Hence, 167 of the invitees are being drawn from the Youth Congress and the NSUI, to give a boost to the party’s heir apparent Rahul Gandhi. Apart from them, the entire Cabinet, all Ministers of State with independent charge, all Congress Working Committee members, Chief Ministers, CLP leaders, State chiefs will be in Jaipur for the deliberations.
The 10-member organising group for the chintan shivir is being chaired by veteran leader and party treasurer Motilal Vora, while the former Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni, is the convener. Its other members are A.K. Antony, Ahmed Patel, P. Chidambaram, Janardan Dwivedi, Oscar Fernandes, Digvijay Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mr. Ramesh. Five sub-committees are formulating discussion papers on political challenges, socio-economic tasks, foreign policy and organisational strengths.
Of the scheduled three days, two days will be devoted to a brainstorming session of 300-plus leaders — this will culminate in a daylong AICC meeting on the last day. The AICC meeting will endorse the conclusions arrived at during the brainstorming exercise. This will be the third such chintan shivir since Ms. Gandhi became Congress president in 1998. If at Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh (1998), the conclusion was that the Congress was the natural party of governance, in Shimla (2003), it was decided that secular forces had to be consolidated through coalitions. In Jaipur, the principle of coalitions will be endorsed, even as the party decides whether it will need to seek more alliances for 2014.