1998: The Congress, at its Pachmari session in Madhya Pradesh, decided to go it alone in general election to regain its original base. The experiment failed.
2004: At its session in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, the Congress decided to put ‘combating communalism’ a main issue and invited like-minded parties for an alliance to overthrow the NDA government.
2012: The 2004 stance was reversed in the party’s session in Jaipur, Rajashan, where it chose to focus on governance and enticing the middle-class and the youth. The party completely skirted the subject of communalism.
2014: At the All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in New Delhi, the party again positioned itself as the only political player that can combat communal forces and uphold secular values.
It appears that the Congress has been conveniently using communalism as a poll plank. This time around too, the Congress is seeking to turn a potential battle of personalities into a battle of ideologies; the party is not pitting Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. It is instead hoping to turn the tide against the Gujarat chief minister, blamed by many for inaction during and even abetting the 2002 communal riots in his state.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi made it clear in her AICC speech that her biggest concern is the threat of communal forces. Without naming the BJP or its prime ministerial candidate, she said the path adopted by the main political Opposition is to divide the society on communal lines, spread poison of enmity, force one religion in the name of unity and hide its real face behind a soft “nakaab, criticise Congress leaders and level false accusations against them and even instigate violence”. Sonia called on Congress workers to never succumb to such an ideology by continuously fighting it.
It is another matter that despite being in power for 10 years, the Congress has made no progress on the detoxification of text books as outlined by late Congress leader Arjun Singh in the political resolution in Simla in 2004.
In the 10-page AICC resolution, terrorism has been mentioned in just one paragraph on foreign policy. It states the party continues to believe that terrorism is a major challenge, collectively facing the world community and that the party is committed to tackling this menace through global cooperation. The resolution stating Rahul will lead the party for the Lok Sabha elections states, “The recent political setbacks (in Assembly elections) are an important wake-up call, and if anything, they should motivate us to work harder, enhancing the connect with every Indian.”
Around two dozen members spoke on the resolution but most of them deviated to express personal views instead of focusing on the contents of the resolution. No amendments were sought in the resolution. Finance minister P. Chidambaram suggested 200 Lok Sabha seats be reserved for youth under 35 years of age while Mumbai north MP Priya Dutt asked for a ceiling of three terms on those elected to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies to make room for others.