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Ahead of Congress' brainstorming session, focus on coalition strategy

Ahead of Congress' brainstorming session, focus on coalition strategy
New Delhi Pehle mahila ka samman, phir Bharat nirman (First respect women, then build nation) - a new slogan that will be debated at the Chintan Shivir (brainstorming session) of the Congress party in Jaipur that gets underway on January 18. Clearly, the protests in the aftermath of the Delhi gang-rape have left its imprint on the party.

The two-day-long brainstorming session, to be followed by a day-long Congress session, will debate five key areas of policy-making. Political challenges, emerging socio-economic challenges, foreign relations, issues relating to women's empowerment and organisational strength will be debated and discussed by the Congress at the conclave.

Five sub-groups will have simultaneous discussions. One group will discuss political challenges while another will debate the emerging socio-economic challenges. Two other sub groups will look at India and the world and the party's organisational strength.

What's interesting is that the Congress has merged one sub group - agriculture and rural development - with socio-economic challenges. But the party has now constituted a new sub-group to debate issues of women empowerment - Dr Girija Vyas will be heading this group.

In a significant admission, the draft political resolution admits that the party can no longer afford to go to elections alone, without allies. A significant departure from Rahul Gandhi's strategy to fight elections alone in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has been out of power for decades. It's also a U-turn from its Panchmarhi declaration where it had espoused the principle of Ekla Cholo Re (march ahead alone).

The experience of running coalition governments for the last eight years has made the party realise that the trend is here to stay and hence, it should aim at leading such alliances to form a stable government.

Another area that finds a mention in the draft resolution is better coordination between the party and the government, especially on policy issues such as economy, education and health.

What is also worth taking note if is the emphasis given to participation of youth. Of the 350 delegates invited to take part in the Chintan Shivir, about 120 delegates will be from frontal organisations like the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India.

Young people will be given emphasis because the party is seriously looking at emerging challenges such as protests by the youth and forms of expression provided by tools such as social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Manish Tewari, the young minister in-charge of Information and Broadcasting, told NDTV the party wants to reach out to all age groups who use such tools.

"New media or social media is something that services the information needs of crores of young people. These platforms are technology agnostic...it would be of worth to the government to see how it could be best leverage its own message," Mr Tewari said.

In fact, reconnecting with the urban middle class and improving delivery systems including dispensation of justice to the poor is something that the party hopes to debate threadbare. These topics are clearly a fallout of the recent protests that saw apolitical groups, largely comprising the youth, who braved police batons and water cannons to protest against, what is being perceived as a callous and an unresponsive system.

Proceedings of the Chintan Shivir will start with an opening speech of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and will end on January 20 with the adoption of the Jaipur Declaration. 
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