Congress’s Naya Daur

Can the party get anywhere near remapping its old grand coalition?

At a recent seminar in Delhi, activist Jean Dréze described his encounter with a woman voter in Allahabad in 2007, who told him she had voted for the “haath” (the Congress’s symbol of the hand). When quizzed for the reason, the farmer-woman looked blank for a bit but then said she didn’t think the other symbols did anything for her; the hand, she reasoned, was her biggest asset, and a party with that as a symbol, perhaps, had something for people who worked with their hands, she did not know the party candidate, but concluded it was her best bet.

It is not clear if the Congress has thought of things and its pitch for 2009 in this way. But if you put their recent statements and assertions in perspective, a few things emerge, which might cheer the ghost of the avid ornithologist and co-founder of the Congress, Allan Octavian Hume.

It’s a cliché, though an appropriate one, that the Congress has always tried to be the broadest church possible, the juggernaut of a coalition before coalitions became the norm. Nehru and those with Nehruvian ideas have wrestled with the likes of Purshottam Das Tandon to define what the idea of India is. The mother party has since its inception boasted of being exactly that, a Congress of several opinions, views and hues. And with this election coming up, it may have decided to again be the Everything party — co-opting elements of the Right and the Left. Its success or failure may depend though, on not only how much it can steal of what are seen as Right and Left agendas, but how much of both of these it can be, while maintaining its Congress-ness — something others expecting more “clarity” would like to describe as its slow, blumbering and sometimes meandering ways, its words and silences.

 

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