As the Congress party continues to mull over its spectacular loss in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, some of their veteran members have advice for the party elite. And even as criticism pours in generously, among the few who have observed the party grow since its early years have noticed the shift in ideologies within the Congress.
Even a fervent Gandhi family loyalist such as AK Antony did not shy from sharing his views on the party's ideological stances with his fellow compatriots. At a recent gathering in Thiruvananthapuram, Antony told fellow Congressmen that perhaps the Congress might not be that secular after all. “There is a doubt created by the party's proximity towards minority communities,” he said. “Some sections of society have an impression that the party is inclined to certain communities or organisations. Congress policy is equal justice to everyone. But people have doubt whether that policy is being implemented or not.”
The former defence minister warned party members that such a situation could open doors for the entry of communal forces into Kerala.
He emphasised that the growing impression that the Congress was more favourable to certain sections than others needs to be addressed. “A situation should not be created in which anyone feels that the party or the government is for someone else,” Antony said.
And Antony's concern over “doubts of secularism” aren't baseless. Only recently, the Maharashtra Congress' move to approve reservation for Marathas and Muslims in government jobs and education institutions received extensive criticism from opposition members and activists.
It is presumed that the party leadership would take Antony's advice into serious consideration, considering his key position in the Congress. “AK Antony is one of the senior-most leaders of the party. What he has said or observed will be certainly discussed and considered by the party,” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told The Sunday Express.
There were other Congress leader who took some offence to the statement. "In 2009, 12 out of 28 Muslims got elected from Congress but only one found place in UPA II Ministry & that too as MOS. Is this appeasement?," Anil Shastri tweeted. While, BJP patriarch LK Advani, also welcomed the statement, "We should welcome this honest soul-searching by AK Antony for he is now saying what we in BJP have been saying all along. "We have always said that secularism should mean justice for all, appeasement of none and discrimination against none," he had said.
Antony's comments come at a time when the party is already considering a major overhaul, in terms of strategy and structure.
In fact, following the Lok Sabha debacle, it was Antony who led a panel to get inputs from party members to figure out what went wrong. In the meeting, Antony asked each participant the reasons for the party's rout and elicited views as to how it can stage a comeback.