The cream of the Congress party, still the biggest political outfit in India, is meeting in Jaipur at the moment for their first brainstorming session in nine years. If party president Sonia Gandhi's speech on Friday afternoon is any indication, the party may still be wary of displeasing each other.
If the principal instinct is to not to annoy, the exercise may not yield what it ought to. Here then is a basic To Do list for the party. There's still time in Jaipur. Hopefully, they might read this.
Let's take stock like the Congress would, and look at five urgent action points for each of the five planned sessions at the Jaipur camp: political, socio-economic, foreign affairs, gender issues, and organisation matters.
1. Regain lost ground
A core group of about a dozen people must solely focus on revival in six key states where the party has found it difficult to find public favour for a long time. The top priority states are: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and West Bengal.
If the core group thinks they need to junk old school thinking and take a completely fresh approach to these states, so be it. It would be nice to see some serious Congress warriors at work here over the next 10 years.
2. Identify and invest in the Future 10
It is about time that the Congress gets a sense of the top 10 men and women who will lead the party over the next 20 years. Rahul Gandhi must not figure in this list of 10. The party needs to be comfortable with Rahul Gandhi anyway. The idea is to spot and nurture the other 10.
Anyone in the 20-25 years age group should be eligible for this. Old school negatives like caste and religion must not be factors; the Congress could head for doom if it doesn’t get a new perspective of talent.
3. Improve quality of governance
It simply means having better ministers, bureaucrats and policemen to start with. The party must start with New Delhi. If the Congress means business and identifies better ministers, the people of Indian might forgive another reshuffle. It must be the last, though.
Lack of quality is not limited to politicians. A number of IAS officers and top cops should be shunted out. We need brave, honest and skilled people in these critical areas.
4. Connect with New Gen
There’s an archaic feel to the Congress although it has several youngsters in its roll call. This is primarily because anyone important seems to be 65+. The party immediately needs to go to the high schools and colleges. The youth and student wings of the Congress almost never seem to matter.
The NSUI is only heard of when the cash-rich Delhi University Students Union elections are held. The Youth Congress is not around when flashpoints arise – like with the youth protests after the recent Delhi gangrape.
5. Work the friends and foes
Talk. Talk. Talk. Get on board all the allies and friendly parties. Make them speak for your programmes and ideas. At the moment, all the Congress partners in governance seem to be sticking around only because they are in power.
Surely the DMK, the NCP and all the UPA constituents can stand up a little more for their big friend. The way to do this is to keep talking; and fronting the allies in public and on television talk shows.
Made in India must be the only three words that count. It’s too depressing that almost everything we use – from mobile phones to construction material – comes from China or the southeast of Asia. There’s barely anything that is made and used in India.
To gain respect in the international community, it is important that our manufacturing revives and stays world class. This is probably the most serious economic issue the Congress needs to get a fix on right away.
2. New cities
Mumbai and Kolkata are human equivalents of nonagenarians. They have the same turnaround capacity and vigour that humans in the 90+ age group have – zero. Both metros are slow, gasping and beyond repair in the form they are in.
Delhi can grow far more but it needs to shed its caveman-like aggression and feudal conduct. The simple truth is that India desperately needs new cities. Cities with modern structures, thought and attitude. Liberal and progressive with great universities and hospitals.
3. Modern and superfast travel
Unless India moves faster, better and safer, the nation is stuck. There has been big talk in the past like the Golden Quadrilateral, etc. The reality is that Gujarat is perhaps the only state with decent roads in large stretches. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are next.
But the rest are an embarrassment. Cars and scooters that can travel in the air are mandatory. As is vertical parking. Both are doable; some towns have been shortlisted for air car trial runs. The Congress must get cracking on this.
People need work and there’s plenty to do in India. Government jobs can’t be the only option. Social entrepreneurs are needed. And they in turn need hands. We need far more doctors, plumbers, mechanics, musicians, sportsmen, filmmakers, photographers, designers.
Anyone and anything. The Congress could call all hands on board – businessmen, industrialists, professionals, politicians and bureaucrats – to deal with this.
5. Corporate ethics
The big one. On this rests the Congress party’s ability and will to curb corruption and control prices. This too is easily doable. All it needs is a show of firmness and integrity. Businessmen usually fall in line when they know the consequences of inappropriate corporate practices.
India needs at least 500 people more on its China desk at the external affairs ministry. To deal effectively with China, India will need far more consulates and offices in all parts of China.
A large part of foreign policy and expertise begins at home. We need far more people and schools teaching the sundry Chinese languages and dialects. China does this with Hindi and they have a bigger and more influential presence in India than we have in China.
Although it would appear that India has ceded too much ground in south Asia to China, the Congress party is an old hand in such matters. The party needs to quickly put together its network of assets in our neighbourhood and regain clout. This may be crucial in the coming decade.
2. United Nations
If we believe that the UN matters, we must have a bigger footprint there. One of the Congress ministers has firsthand experience and knowledge of the UN and he must be used effectively. Either we get veto powers in the UN or we simply work to get the veto powers scrapped for all.
The Indian Foreign Service, by its very nature, ought to be far bigger than it is. If we have to matter to the nations of the world, we need to have substantial presence everywhere. The Congress needs to start a big recruitment drive for the IFS straightaway.
1. Have a woman deputy PM
If a man is the prime minister. The woman deputy prime minister must be the last stop for all women-related matters. The Congress president is a woman for the past 15 years but her role is limited in governance. The party needs a strong woman in governance, which means Raisina Hill.
2. Have women deputy chief ministers
Where men are chief ministers. The same logic holds: the Congress must have a strong woman seen publicly as driving governance in the states.
3. Give Congresswomen stature and power
Even today, the Congress has many women members; plenty of them in party positions too. But the men in the party treat the women as ornamental. To change this, the party needs the women to crack the whip. Mindsets will then change at once.
4. Give the ministry of women and child welfare a role in finance and home affairs
At the moment, women and child welfare is an afterthought. If the ministry has a role in, say, finance policy and police recruitment, etc., we might have a society more like the Scandinavian ones where women and children are best looked after on this planet.
5. Stop regressive television content
Traditionally, the Congress party has a good sense of the Information and Broadcasting ministry. For instance, even someone as high profile as Indira Gandhi worked as I&B minister. The I&B ministry can influence television content in the right way.
They could call for a big meeting with all big producers of content and agree on not showing regressive and backward-looking portrayal of women in commercial soaps. This small step could have a big impact.
1. Rotating presidency
The Congress had a number of stalwarts heading it in the pre-Independence days, which was the golden period for the party. Since then, the party has allowed long tenures in the presidency with Sonia Gandhi having the longest. She’s been around since 1998 and that is too long.
The Congress needs to get back to two-year terms for its president. Keeps the pot fresh and energy levels high.
2. Recruit like there's no tomorrow
The Congress needs members. It’s been a long time since the party has embarked on a major recruitment drive. They need active members in all neighbourhoods of the country. They need them in all trouble zones, at all times of strife and peace.
Start today and keep at it for two years. Get the feet on the ground with visible, accessible, functional offices in each neighbourhood tasked only with solving people's problems.
3. Create a visual identity
Add something to the white. Maybe a cap, the palm logo on the kurtas, shirts, T-shirts, etc. White has become the colour of all politicians and the Congressmen get lost in the sea. The only way to spot one from the other is by the face.
This can change with smart and simple design touches. It might help generate trust as well. People feel more secure when they can see whom to go to.
4. Special campaigns and projects
Corporate efficiency might assist here. The Congress doesn’t think in smart and doable terms. It thinks humungous and so we have all-India schemes like MGNREGA, etc. It might help to think smaller with specific and special campaigns.
Like ‘Modernise the Muslims’ [get the poorest Muslim ghettos to be computer literate], or ‘Let the Dalits Drive’ [offer car dealerships to Dalits], or ‘Woman at the Wheel’ [employ 50% drivers of buses and government vehicles as women]. They work like a breeze.
5. Get online
Till late in the evening on the first day of the Jaipur brainstorming session, the Congress website had nothing. The Congress is asleep online and it shows. They take a beating in the social media and have no skills of any sort there.
The party needs a strong online wing with specific social media skills and an understanding of what the party is doing. This needs the whole structure to work because information has to move from the top to, say, Facebook and Twitter rapidly.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.