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Congress is Losing the Ideological Battle Not Only to BJP, But Also From Within

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The Gandhis knew it would not go unnoticed that they decided not to turn up at the Darbar Hall when Pranab Mukherjee, a career Congressmen, was being conferred with the highest civilian honour of the land.

In the last one week, the Congress has squandered two opportunities to claw back at least some amount of control over the political discourse in the country. Both were lost without much ado.

At the Bharat Ratna award ceremony at the President’s House on Thursday evening, the Congress’ first family was conspicuously absent. This while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and almost the entire Cabinet was in attendance.

The Gandhis knew it would not go unnoticed that they decided not to turn up at the Darbar Hall when Pranab Mukherjee, a career Congressmen, was being conferred with the highest civilian honour of the land.

Sources said the absence was the Gandhis making a statement on Mukherjee’s visit to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur last year despite resistance from within the Congress.

Mukherjee was the chief guest and the main speaker at the third-year “passing-out” parade of Sangh volunteers.

Many in Congress at the time had felt the former President, by accepting the Sangh’s invitation, was lending credibility to the organisation that the party has ideologically opposed since Independence.

But Thursday’s absence from the ceremony was seen on the outside as a missed opportunity to reclaim Mukherjee as their own, and not an ideological stand. It also gave the BJP another chance to present the Congress as a family-controlled party.

The second, more worrying loss for the Congress, was one that also stands to have a much more long-lasting impact on its political future: its display of lack of any conviction in the opposition to the nullification of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, took a strident position in the Upper House against scrapping of the constitutional provisions that special status to Jammu and Kashmir. But many in his own party, both young and old, disagreed and they did not shy away from voicing their opinions.

By the time the top leadership, after demurring for a good 24 hours, cleared the party stand, most of the damage had already been done.

Sonia Gandhi told Lok Sabha MPs to oppose the government’s move. Rahul Gandhi tweeted almost 24 hours after the government decision to make his reservations clear on the way the state was being divided into two separate union territories. But by then, many within his party had voiced support for the government’s decision.

All hell broke loose at the meeting called by the party to discuss the Kashmir issue.

Just before heading for the Congress Working Committee meet, Jyotiraditya Scindia shocked everyone by tweeting that he stood by government decision as it was in the “country’s interest”, albeit with the disclaimer that it would have been better if constitutional process was followed.

In fact, he was the strongest voice at the CWC meet as he argued that the Congress had the perception battle and the government needed to be supported. Deepender Hooda too echoed Scindia’s stand, as did Kumari Shelja. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, Hooda and Shelja are from a state going for polls later this year.

RPN Singh also said party line should be followed but the party should also factor in the nation’s mood and not get into “technicalities”, glossing over the fact that the Congress had called the revocation of special status “unconstitutional”.

Party sources tried to battle the embarrassing statements by attributing them to a lack of ideological conviction, opportunism and over leaders being swayed by public mood of nationalistic fervor.

Azad, as expected, was upset and pushed for a hard line. Sources said the three Gandhis – Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka – agreed with him and felt that everyone in Congress must stand by Kashmir.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said that just because everyone was in favour of the government, doesn’t mean Congress should forget its responsibilities and change its stand.

The CWC came out with a statement after resolving differences and saying that views of all should be taken. “The CWC deplores the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was dismembered…” it said.

At a time when the BJP plans to hit the streets to take its message on Kashmir to the masses, the Congress too plans to do so.

But despite differences being resolved, there are few who are convinced in the party that it’s the right thing to do. The worry is that the party’s stand on the Balakot airstrikes and the aftermath had cost it the Lok Sabha polls and the party is repeating the mistake.

As Congress is poised to have a new president on Saturday, the challenge would be to stick to its stand and speak in one voice.

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