Why I will invest in the Congress! Rudresh Kaulby Rudresh Kaul May 16 2019, 3:08 pm Estimated Reading Time: 13 mins, 36 secs
Rudresh Kaul writes, “I have always believed that learning and sharing go hand in hand.”
At the outset let me make it clear, this isn’t a crowdfunding pitch for the Congress. Investment here refers to the more difficult ones i.e. time and energy. If not for the editorial demand for brevity of the title – I would have called it, “Why I will continue to be invested in the Congress”. Simply because I am already an active worker of the Congress and have been invested in the party as a supporter long before I chose to formally associate with it. I am also one of those millions for whom Rahul said that the stage was set in his first plenary session as the Congress President.
So, why this article and why should it hold good despite my seemingly expected bias for the party?
The answer is that I have continually reassessed my decision of supporting and working for Congress over the past few years. I guess age and experience do that to one. I have looked out for the performance of the party on the parameters that I deem important for a national party in the world’s largest democracy. Just like with everything in life, this comes with its set of challenges in the form of varied diverse benchmarks. Additionally, Indian polity faces its own unique problems that can’t be discounted. I believe most of those are rooted in the socio-cultural context of the country and take a lot of effort and time for political change to reflect vis-à-vis them.
My two basic premises are as follow:
- Greater political participation is the way forward in our country. And that while, criticism, constructive or otherwise, could happen externally, constructive work can be done only by being a part of the system.
- Based on my experience with the party is that there is positive change at work and even if gradual, it’s visible in intention, effort and results to varied extent. I feel this holds true for polity at large.
I have always believed that learning and sharing go hand in hand. So, if I feel something is good and others should know about it and even be a part of it then I need to share it. So here are my reasons to affirm that I will continue to invest in the Congress.
For any national party to be true to its existence, it is vital to have fair representation of the constituents otherwise how does it even claim to represent those it seeks to. Diversity, thus, becomes the key word that operates at every level of such a party. Among the two parties that are widely termed as national parties in India, Congress betters the other one by a long distance in diversity. While, people might rue that Congress is no more the party that it was during early days of independence with room for diverse streams of thought – leftist, socialist, conservative and others, I have experienced that in the contemporary context Congress still remains the quintessential umbrella party for diverse sections of society and politics and different shades manifest themselves albeit without labels in a fashion which is more adapted to Congress’ increasing years of existence.
Shortly, after activating my formal association with the party, I had the chance to attend a small meeting of party members. I remember someone remarking about the diversity at display in that room – men and women from about five different religions, various caste groups, about a dozen states, having as many languages and beliefs and viewpoints. To someone who had never attended a meeting before it was pleasantly surprising and definitely raised the benchmark of expectations.
Congress has also shown acceptance of diversity in its actions. While, parties chose to either oppose or be indifferent to the issue of Section 377, Congress chose to go public with its support. For me it wasn’t the contrast to the BJP’s actions, but the fact that the party leadership chose not to be indifferent but forward looking and progressive. It happens to be a definite top-bottom driven way of change at work inside the party and symbolic of the fact that the party can be bold even in the face of adverse political consequences for the long-term benefit of the country.
There are also other subsequent events such as appointment of Apsara Reddy as the first transgender National General Secretary of Mahila Congress that assure me of the party’s intrinsic inclination for diversity and thereby correctness of my investment. India deserves a party that not only reflects India’s aspirations but also leads India to aspire the right way.
- Engagement with people
At the heart of a functional democracy lies the continuous engagement between various stakeholders. And for the functional democracy to be vibrant, continuous exchange between the opposing parties is pivotal. Any party’s commitment to democratic values can be assessed by its willingness to engage with views different than its own including the opposing ones.
Congress to me over the last few years has seemed to be a party that scores well on this front. There are two dimensions to this. One is the current leadership and the other is the party culture equally reflected in the approach of workers and supporters.
Rahul Gandhi has continuously stated that he wants to connect with various sections of the society and listen to them. He has also backed it up with his townhalls, visits to educational institutes, interactions with businessmen and teachers among others. Moreover, Rahul has been forthcoming in interacting with press and has held multiple press conferences, interactions, interviews, etc. Press has maintained that he is a spontaneous communicator, and nothing is scripted about his interactions.
Not only this, he has shown keenness in raising issues in the parliament and even engaging with the current dispensation on a variety of issues such as GST, Terror Attacks, Rafale, etc. Now contrast this with the government of the day and you know that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi is far ahead and promises to improve further towards absolute benchmarks.
To me as a citizen, Congress’ intent to consult people from various walks of life over a span of more than a year to come up with the manifesto is really appreciable especially since I was also a part of the exercise wherein, I could contribute my two cents. I witnessed how sincerely consultations were held and the result reflects that. This for me takes participative democracy a step further and is pivotal to the need of doing justice to the democratic form of governance. Afterall, we are not a plutocracy.
The second dimension that reflects the party culture is how workers and supporters engage with different views. A qualitative comparison of how supporters of the two national parties engage with views different from their own definitely puts Congress in a brighter spot. Congress supporters usually try to engage logically and are restrained. It is at times absurd to find Congress supporters trying to engage with those who incessantly abuse them. And then they would attribute it to the party culture and off late to Rahul Gandhi’s call of ‘Pyar se Jeetengay’. This behaviour holds hope for us. Not everything is as bad about politics in India as it is made out to be. If a common worker can put higher ideals at work, then surely there is room for improvement, and we all need to invest into it.
Ethics is a broad word and comes with its complexity. But that is where the challenge lies for every political party anywhere in the world. The challenge only grows manifold for a party that seeks to represent one-sixth of humanity with the sort of diversity that India has and with various other factors thrown in. Though this definitely makes being ethical a tall order it does not imply that a party willing to do so can’t work towards achieving this. Congress’ work approach shows that. It is under a Congress government that big leaders and even ministers resign; appear in courts and also end up in custody. Sometimes, the reasons are not even related to their performance but those are based on moral grounds or public discourse. This is when the party proves its ‘true to democracy’ credentials. These are vital signs of the Nehruvian spark being alive in the party.
And this Nehruvian spark is visible even at smaller levels. In my experience, if one were to ideate something that had a hint of ethical dilemma, ten people would voice objections, even if that meant loss to the party. This is what Congress originally stands for and even if at times the real Congress is not visible, we should remember that it is very much there and we need to work towards making it mightier.
The other national party does not believe in accountability to the electorate. So, there isn’t any question of resignations. It took them so long for asking a #MeToo accused minister to step down even if grudgingly. In fact, on one hand there is Congress which, under the then PM Dr. Singh and the then party president Mrs. Gandhi, has apologised for the tragic happenings of 1984 and even admitted that the Emergency was a mistake. And on the other hand, the Bharatiya Janta Party led by Mr. Modi does not even mention the tragic happenings of 2002 let alone any hint of an apology.
I choose to invest in a party that has high work ethics and can speak the truth to itself. That is Congress.
‘Call me Rahul’, said Rahul Gandhi to a student. Did he need to? No. Sir and Madam are the common forms of address in India so much so that one might at times forget that these aren’t Indian words. But, Rahul Gandhi chose a best practice over the vestiges of old days – he chose to be addressed by the first name. In India, addressing by the first name is not common. In fact, even in a part of the corporate world where it is common, people find flexibility of switching to other ways of addressing others important. But, Rahul Gandhi did this just out of humility. Though, there can be multiple positive interpretations, let us limit ourselves to the humility one.
Rahul Gandhi even after his family is called names desists from paying back in the same currency. Instead, he chooses to be compassionate and embrace people who do so. Even recently, while Mr. Modi in his desperation to cling on to power has made distasteful remarks about the former Prime Minister Late Rajiv Gandhi drawing ire from various sections of society, Rahul has been calm and composed in his response to such remarks.
It is equally important that Rahul and other leaders have not targeted Mr. Modi personally but on his acts as the Prime Minister and what he promised to be to the people of this country. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ is an example of this. It is more like ‘rakshak hi bhakshak hai’ and not a personal comment on Mr. Modi. While, in a few instances where any Congress leader has made personal attacks on Mr. Modi – action has been taken. A recent video of Priyanka Gandhi wherein she can be seen stopping children from using foul words for Mr. Modi – the man who has used foul language for her family – is a great example of being able to tell right from the wrong.
The fact that Mr. Beni Prasad Verma (then a Congress leader) had to apologise for his remarks against Mr. Vajpayee in 2009 shows that personal attacks are not appreciated in Congress. And this is rightly so. This is the very foundation of Congress which is rooted in the Indian culture. Many of us have seen Mr. Vajpayee’s speech wherein he refers to how his remarks on Pandit Nehru’s personality were not taken in bad taste by Pandit ji. But, on the other hand, today’s BJP led by Mr. Modi not only makes personal attacks, it does not show any signs of remorse either.
To me this very humility makes one accept mistakes, learn without prejudice and work with cooperation and thereby opens new doors of opportunity and prosperity for the nation. How much ever, certain elements may try to make us perceive humility and weakness we need to continue to have conviction in it and its benefits. While, Rahul accepts that the Congress had become arrogant in between and 2014 was the best thing to happen vis-à-vis such arrogance, I feel motivated to be part of the change that is in offing.
- Focus on Policy
While, elections are fought and won on many factors related or unrelated to development, policy remains the centrepiece of any country’s governance. Policy is so intrinsic to governance that unless a dispensation stops focussing on it, we do not realize that it is the fuel for a country and the quintessential job of the government. Thus, Focus on Policy is a definite parameter for any political party.
Though there are multiple successes that one could refer to in this context. One that shines the brightest is Congress governments’ preference for creating and strengthening institutions. These institutions not only facilitate governance and government and public interface but also ensure that governance by and large remains insulated from change at the hustings. Planning Commission and RBI are two examples. Unfortunately, institutions and their freedom and in certain cases existence has been on the wrong side of the current dispensation’s agenda.
With its manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress has again displayed that its focus remains on policy areas. More importantly it is not only broad promises but also the vision of how the Congress will go about it. For example, NYAY – Congress’ Minimum Income Guarantee plan has been devised in consultation with famous economists such as Thomas Piketty, Raghuram Rajan and Angus Deaton (Nobel laureate) amongst others.
The Manifesto clearly spells out that it seeks to repeal outdated laws and also spells out a few of those. For Unemployment, it spells out how it plans to go abut employing nearly 3 million people in Govt. jobs by March, 2020. On the front of defence as well Congress does not indulge in verbose promises but talks specifics such as making National Security Council into a statutory body. This is same with all aspects of the comprehensive manifesto. Thus, the manifesto has been well received by intellectuals and the common man alike.
As to Congress’ credentials – one just requires having a look at dozens of Congress projects and schemes that have been renamed and repackaged by the current dispensation from Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (now Swachh Bharat Abhiyan) to Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (now Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) and others. Renaming and repackaging is not only lack of ability to do something better but also an attempt at appropriating the success of Congress.
The fact that Prime Minister Modi termed MNREGA as a colossal failure and later continued to increase the budget allocation for the same shows us that MNREGA is so vital that Mr. Modi could not do away and politically he can’t credit Congress for it.
The fact that the Congress campaign can draw examples aplenty from its days in governance to prove its commitment proves that it has delivered before on policy matters and is committed to deliver again.
Having witnessed Congress’ sincerity to reduce what Noam Chomsky calls the democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion, through its large-scale effort to come out with a realistic yet promising manifesto, I am sure that the investment has to be long-term. I strongly believe that many like me owe such an investment to ourselves and to ensure that equality, justice, freedom and happiness become and continue to be everyday realities for increasing number of people.