What the Congress plenary showed
With roughly a year to go for the 2024 general elections, the contours of the impending campaign are firming up
With roughly a year to go for the 2024 general elections, the contours of the impending campaign are firming up. It is also sparking the question — what will it take for the Opposition to mount a credible challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? For any political party to perform its functions well needs three things: A cogent vision that is both expansive to attract new subscribers and focused to serve the interests of its core base; a leadership team that can become a credible messenger for the vision and use charisma to evoke faith; and an organisation that forms the grassroots network to sell the vision and acts as a bridge between the last voter and the party. The Congress’s recently concluded plenary session in Raipur was expected to hint at the party’s responses to some of these questions. What did the party do?
On agenda, the plenary had the most substantial answers. The party announced an outreach towards marginalised communities and tribespeople, pushed for a caste census, quotas in the higher judiciary, a new economic plan, and new legislation against religious discrimination and hate crimes. This is broadly an update of the platform that propelled the Congress to power in 2004 and 2009, but it remains to be seen whether the party pivots to a shriller anti-corruption pitch, as it did in 2019, instead of a broader social agenda. On organisational reform, there were no definite answers (Mallikarjun Kharge was authorised to nominate members to the Congress Working Committee instead of holding elections for the posts), but the party announced 50% quotas for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, backward groups, minorities, women and those under 50 years in internal posts. While more internal diversity is welcome, it left some questions on how the party was looking to bolster its weakening grassroots footprint. The party may be hoping its Pasighat-to-Porbandar yatra — the second cross-country journey in a year after the Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra — will help energise the cadre, but the electoral potential of such exercises remains untested. Is there anyone in the Congress who can take on the Prime Minister’s formidable popularity and connect? On this key leadership question, the answers were unclear. The party appeared unwilling to see 2024 as a presidential-style contest, leaning towards alliances and a granular strategy. There also appeared to be no major shake-up in the offing in the leadership team. This is important given that the leadership will not only need to project a national alternative but also muster enough authority to stamp out internal fires, including some in poll-bound states.
The Congress’s 2024 strategy appears to be a work in progress. There’s not much time left.