Leading the charge against the NDA are young Congress leaders such as Jyotiradtiya Scindia and the party’s Rajasthan chief Sachin Pilot
New Delhi: It may have been a meeting called by the Indian National Congress to criticize the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government that will complete its third year in power on 26 May, but it was as much about the effort of India’s grand old party to reinvent itself.
Most people on the dais were young (by political standards, at least; below 50 years of age), a significant change for a party that usually fields only veterans at such important engagements with the media. People within the party and outside see this as among the first visible manifestations of an overhaul that sees younger leaders in the party taking on key roles under vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
Leading the charge against the NDA were the Congress’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Jyotiradtiya Scindia; the party’s Rajasthan chief Sachin Pilot; the newly appointed social media in-charge Divya Spandana; Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Assam, Sushmita Dev; former Union minister R.P.N.Singh; and media in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala.
“When we decided to hold a media interaction on three years of Modi, we wanted to do it with a new set of faces. They are young, true blue Congress leaders who can connect well with the youth of the country. They are articulate,” a senior party leader said, requesting anonymity.
The change in strategy is also politically interesting because none of these leaders faces any allegations of corruption. Some of them are from states bound for polls next year—Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.
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“This is a very conscious choice and it is a clear indicator of a generational shift in the party. There is an effort to change the narrative and public interaction is the first step in that. We expect this to continue on different forums,” a second party leader added, also asking not to be identified.
The press conference on Tuesday focused on what the Congress termed the “failures” of the incumbent Union government, and party leaders announced a nationwide public campaign over the next two years (up to the 2019 general elections) to expose the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dominant constituent of the NDA. The Congress criticized the government’s performance on several fronts: an increase in atrocities against Dalits, women’s safety, foreign policy, rising fuel prices, and growing unemployment.
“To expose the falsehoods of the BJP, the Congress party will launch an extensive country-wide public campaign after bringing (together) all like-minded (parties) and those forces troubled by this government,” Surjewala told reporters.
When asked about why the Congress has not been able to garner support and also been losing state polls, one of the leaders said the party needs to come up with an alternative governance agenda to take on the BJP.
“I am of the opinion that we cannot come to power only by criticizing the government. I believe that not just in Rajasthan, but across the country we have to prepare a blueprint for a better governance alternative...Congress will speak what is in the realm of reality,” Pilot said. He added that the Congress would win all key state elections between now and the next general elections.
Since the BJP-led NDA came to power in 2014, there have been 16 state assembly elections. The BJP (with allies) has won 9 of these, the Congress (with allies) has won 3, and others, 4.