New face of Congress? Case of too little too late?

New Delhi, Dec 22: The assembly poll debacle appears to have brought an urgency to the Congress and the party has suddenly become pro-active in its avowed goal of heralding changes “beyond imagination”. Its top leadership has heralded some organisational changes and taken clear positions on controversial issues, prompting experts to say that though it was late, the new strategy, if it continues, could benefit the party in the 2014 national polls.

After the Congress’ humiliating defeat, both party president Sonia Gandhi and her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi spoke candidly. While Sonia Gandhi said the party required deep introspection and that the party will name its prime ministerial candidate at an opportune time, Rahul Gandhi said the party will transform itself in ways that can’t be imagined.

And while the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party appeared ambiguous on the Supreme Court order on the gay rights issue, Sonia Gandhi expressed her disappointment with the verdict. The United Progressive Alliance government later filed a review petition over the judgment seeking re-examination of the court’s verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Congress also showed urgency in getting the long-pending Lokpal bill passed in parliament in the winter session. Rahul Gandhi held a press conference at the party office signalling the Congress desire to take political credit for the landmark anti-corruption legislation and appealed to all political parties to support the bill.

He also suggested extending the winter session to pass six other anti-graft bills pending in parliament. Rahul Gandhi highlighted the Right to Information Act, passed during UPA-I, as an expression of the Congress’s commitment to fighting corruption.

The aggressive Indian diplomacy against the alleged harassment of the Indian diplomat in the US was also seen as a piece of the recent proactive attitude of the Congress and the party’s willingness to take a stand on major issues. The party had earlier been accused by critics of merely reacting to the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, defending its positions against their attack and appearing to be in no hurry to take positions on controversial issues.

When media highlighted a law intern’s accusations of sexual harassment against retired Supreme Court judge A.K. Ganguly, Law Minister Kapil Sibal immediately went public to demand his resignation.

Rahul Gandhi was seen to be more articulate, concise and forthright by industry leaders in his views in his address at the FICCI general body meeting Saturday, compared to the speech he delivered at another business gathering about eight months ago.

Gandhi clearly addressed apprehensions in sections of industry about his economic vision when he said that growth and welfare must go hand-in-hand.

Gandhi’s stamp was also seen in resignation of Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan amid concerns that “restrictive regulations” of her ministry were slowing down growth across sectors.

The Congress has already effected organisational changes in Delhi and Chhattisgarh, two of the four states where it was defeated in the recent assembly polls, replacing the incumbents with younger leaders.

A session of the All India Congress Committee has been convened next month amid speculation that Rahul Gandhi, 43, may be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

According to the cognoscenti, the Congress move “comes a bit late” but “there is still time for it to retrieve the lost ground”.

“After AAP’s success in Delhi, both Congress and BJP have been forced to take more moral stands,” political commentator Kuldip Nayyar told IANS.

Agreeing with the view, Badri Narain, who teaches at G.B. Pant Institute of Social Sciences, Allahabad, said: “There was no option before the Congress after the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi polls.”

“The Congress will have to talk in this language. Though it is late, there is still some time to go before the Lok Sabha polls for the Congress to rework its image,” he told IANS.

According to the experts, Rahul Gandhi, who confined himself mostly to party matters, has realised he has to be in the forefront now and deal with the emerging situation.

“Corruption has been the biggest charge against the Congress. Rahul’s anti-corruption stance will help the party reach out to the middle class and youth,” said Badri Narain.

“The Congress stand on gay rights issue would be understood by urban voters and youth more than rural voters,” he said.

Mridula Mukherjee, who teaches political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, feels “it is never too late in politics” and much will depend on how “the Congress builds up its campaign” ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and how “it mobilises its resources.”

“Both parties suffer from infighting but on the ground the Congress is facing a cadre-based BJP with reinforcement from the RSS workers,” Mukherjee told IANS. “The Congress lacks this kind of machinery as it is a mass-based party,” she said.

According to Mukherjee, Sonia Gandhi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s views against the apex court order on gay rights issues will appeal to the liberal-minded voters in urban areas, especially the youth, whereas the BJP, which has supported the order, will be seen as an orthodox party.

IANS