One month since the Congress drafted a plan for revamp at the Udaipur Chintan Shivir, the party has begun to walk the talk, though the task of electoral revival remains tedious and challenging.
The latest appointment of veteran Jairam Ramesh as general secretary in-charge of communications with publicity, social and digital media under him and firebrand Pawan Khera as media chief has set the ball rolling for a new outreach wing that will show the way to reconnect with the masses, according to party leaders.
Strengthening the party’s communication strategy to improve public engagement is foremost on the Congress agenda after Rahul Gandhi had stressed that they “have to go back to the people” at the Udaipur meeting.
Senior Congress leader Ajay Maken says the message of the three-day brainstorming and the decisions taken there have reached the grassroots and state units have already been instructed to enforce the new pledges.
“These decisions include ensuring 50 percent representation to workers who are under 50 at state, district and block levels in the Congress and setting up of new mandal committees to have more feet on the ground,” Mr Maken said.
Senior Congress leaders add that the party has already embarked on the new path of revival and changes will be visible over the coming months once the recently constituted Task Force for 2024 Lok Sabha polls reworks its strategy.
Party functionaries holding positions for over five years will gradually be replaced and ‘one person, one post’ formula, as agreed on in Udaipur, will be enforced, says AICC general secretary Maken, who had read out the Chintan Shivir pledges.
The replacement of Randeep Surjewala as in charge of communications by Ramesh is the first major signal of relieving leaders from multiple posts.
Mr Surjewala held the post for seven years and continued as media chief even after being appointed AICC general secretary Karnataka in 2020.
“We have started embarking on the path laid down by the Udaipur declaration. The outcome of the brainstorming session and tangible differences will be seen in the party and its functioning soon,” said Maken.
On the expansion of the Communications department, insiders said all state units have been brought under its wings now to ensure better coordination and uniform messaging.
The communications wing is also set to have dedicated units on research and data analytics, sources say, adding that the promised election management and public insight departments were in the works too.
The unexpected Enforcement Directorate summons to Gandhis and nationwide protests against the Agnipath scheme have only aided Congress mobilisation in recent days, with its leaders noting that the angst of the youth was a major challenge for the ruling BJP.
“First the farmers were up in arms against the government. Now the youth are agitated.
”The Congress, through its Satyagraha at Jantar Mantar today, has pledged to voice the concerns of the youth who fear an uncertain future as the government turns the armed forces recruitment process on its head,” Neeraj Kundan, president of Congress’ student wing NSUI, told PTI.
He said the Congress party’s ability to articulate raging anxieties will determine the pace of its revival ahead of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections later this year.
Signs of a reenergised Congress were also visible when the ED summoned Rahul Gandhi for questioning in the National Herald matter.
“The entire rank and file were out on the streets, braving assaults of the Delhi Police, and expressing solidarity with their leader,” said a veteran leader.
The G-23 dissenters have also almost fallen by the wayside after the Congress denied Rajya Sabha re-nomination to its members Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, bringing back P Chidambaram and Jairam Ramesh instead.
However, the road to Congress party’s electoral revival remains rutted, with the party facing an uphill task of challenging an aggressive BJP in both Himachal and Gujarat.
Winning these states is critical to the party’s fortunes as it is in power only in two states – Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – on its own.
Another challenge going forward is securing a pole position in the opposition camp – an onerous task considering hardly any party has made public statements in support of Rahul Gandhi as he the faces the ED heat in the National Herald case.
Besides, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee recently stole the march on the Congress by organising the first formal opposition meeting to discuss a joint nominee for the July 18 presidential election.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who seemed to have taken the lead by asking Mallikarjun Kharge to engage the Opposition, had to step back and send Kharge to attend Mamata’s meeting instead.
The next meeting on the presidential nominee issue is going to be hosted by NCP chief Sharad Pawar with the Congress seemingly left in the cold.
The trend of prominent leaders exiting also continues with Kapil Sibal, Sunil Jakhar and former Gujarat Congress Working President Hardik Patel leaving the Congress after the Chintan Shivir.
An insider sceptical of Congress’ plans for revival summed up the challenges. “There is a saying – what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. What happened in Udaipur stayed in Udaipur. The pending issue of revival is still pending,” the leader said.
Whether the Congress can reinvent itself enough and put its house in order remains to be seen.