Lok Sabha elections 2024: Congress to focus on pro-poor stance going forward in push to get lost support base back

Once an anathema to the party, Congress is now at the forefront of the social justice movements, almost pushing the Mandal parties to the corner and even upsetting a section among its own leaders.
hemin Joy
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 02:54 IST
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 02:54 IST

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New Delhi: On 1 September, 2021, Rahul Gandhi told a press conference at the Congress headquarters that the “economic strategy” adopted in 1991 stopped working in 2012 and the country needed a “new approach”. He then did not elaborate further.

At a ‘Rashtriya Samvidhan Sammelan’ in Lucknow days ago on May 10, Rahul said the Congress will “also have to change its politics in coming times”, while admitting that his party has “also committed mistakes”. This time too, he did not elaborate on the mistakes he believes his party has committed.

However, Rahul’s articulation in the past three years appears to open a window to the Congress’ recalibration of strategy and how it wants to place itself in the future. The party, sources said, wants to reclaim its “pro-poor” credentials and that is what one is seeing in the ongoing Lok Sabha election campaign.

At the same time in Lucknow, Rahul also said he would not be against the 10 per cent privileged while championing the cause of the rest 90 per cent, which also includes the poor from the general category.

Sources pointed to the 1996 and 2014 election results to elaborate it. They said they lost 1996 because the Narasimha Rao government did not benefit the poor, the Congress’ core vote bank.

Liberalisation was needed, but it only benefitted the upper-class and the middle-class, which are not the Congress’ core catchment area, they said, adding that there was no wealth transfer for the poor. They further said that in 1996, the middle and upper classes did not vote for the grand old party despite benefitting from its policies.

In 2009, they said, some of “our leaders” felt that Congress won because of the middle class, but again the experience in 2014 was different. They failed to understand that the UPA-I’s pro-poor initiatives like MGNREGA helped them, sources said.

"Both times we lost because we catered to a section who did not vote for us. In 1996, the argument was that the Ram temple also did us in. But then how did Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati win that time?" they wondered.

In the long term, sources said, Congress will absorb the mandal, Dalit and tribal political space by becoming an overarching formation. “We will unabashedly (be) a pro-poor, pro-people party,” a senior leader said.

Once an anathema to the party, Congress is now at the forefront of the social justice movements, almost pushing the Mandal parties to the corner and even upsetting a section among its own leaders, with Rahul and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge working in tandem.

Caste census and reservation form some of the core themes in this strategy, which sources said is attracting backwards, Dalits, tribals, and minorities, especially the poor among them, to the Congress. “We are now seen as raising their issues,” a senior leader said.

By bringing the Constitution to the fore, a symbol which the Dalits hold to their hearts due to B R Ambedkar’s association with it, sources said the Congress has managed to penetrate into Ambedkarite Dalits.

Amid fear of tweaking the quota regime, sources said Congress’ commitment to retain the values of the Constitution will strike a chord with the backward, Dalits and tribals. In his Lucknow speech, Rahul said the Constitution has strains of Buddhism, ‘Periyar’ EV Ramasamy, Mahatma Gandhi, and crores of people.

Sources said the Congress, which usually did not talk much about its ideology and when it did, it did so in abstract terms. However, it now gives a premium on ideology these days. They said the leadership is not perturbed by non-committal leaders leaving the party.

“We lost way earlier. We want to be associated with the poor. We want to reclaim our lost space. The BJP is worried about this. Our new articulation does not allow the BJP to paint us pro-Muslim or anti-Hindu, anti-Dalit etc. We are seeing it now,” the leader said.

At the same time, Congress is also ensuring that it is not upsetting the middle-upper classes and the market. In his Lucknow speech, Rahul indicated that they may not be able to undo all that has been done in the past.

To a question on whether Congress will reverse the privatisation of public sector units done by Modi, he said that it may not be possible but in future, the party will ensure that there will be “no blatant” privatisation.

Published 13 May 2024, 02:54 IST

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