New Delhi/Jaipur: The Congress is brain-storming in Jaipur from today and the focus is on the 2014 elections and Rahul Gandhi's role in leading the party in battle. The ruling party hopes to emerge from the two-day session armed with strategy on, among other things, how to reconnect with an angry urban middle class.
Rajasthan's capital has got a face-lift for the event, and with many political A-listers in town, security arrangements are elaborate. The Congress, which rules the state, is at pains to point out that the party is footing the bill for the "Chintan Shivir" or brainstorming camp, not the tax-payer.
The party brass will debate, among other things, the role of the Congress in leading coalitions, with the party now clear that elections can no more be fought alone and that coalition politics is here to stay - 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 is also a U-turn from its Panchmarhi declaration where it had espoused the principle of Ekla Cholo Re (march ahead alone).
The aim now will be at leading such alliances to form a stable government. There will also be much focus on better party-government coordination on key policy.
The Congress sees an urgent need to address an alienation from the middle class, seen most recently when the government it leads was found grossly inadequate in its response to spontaneous protests after the brutal gang-rape and torture of a 23-year-old medical student in a moving bus in Delhi last month. As thousands of students and other people took to the streets demanding justice for the victim and better security for women, there was huge anger at the failure of senior ministers to reach out and respond adequately. In the end, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had to intervene and promise, "Your voices have been heard."
Many new proposals and initiatives that will be discussed in Jaipur stem from the fact that the Congress realises there is a lot of middle class anger in urban india and that the party urgently needs to reconnect with these sections of the society.
There is a distinct focus on women and youth. In the wake of the horrific assault on the young student, gender issues have been a key part of public discourse and the ruling party is taking a new slogan to Jaipur - "Pehle mahila ka samman, phir Bharat nirman (First respect women, then build nation)". The Congress will also discuss a long-standing proposal to effect 30 per cent reservation for women within the organisation.
Also, of the 350 delegates invited to take part in the Chintan Shivir, about 120 delegates will be from organisations like the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, the biggest representation yet at such a meet and a clear Rahul Gandhi initiative.
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.
The Chintan Shivir will begin with an opening speech by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and will end on January 20 with the adoption of the Jaipur Declaration. After the two-day brain-storming, a session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) will be held on Sunday.