On Friday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi was at hand in Dongargarh, the headquarters of Rajnandgaon district in poll-bound Chhattisgarh, to launch his party’s manifesto for the Assembly polls in the state. However, less than 24 hours later, Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence from Bhopal, where the Congress manifesto was released for neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.
Gandhi did not skip the manifesto launch at the state Congress office in Bhopal because of some preoccupation with his Chhattisgarh election campaign. Gandhi was invited but he chose to opt out, even as party’s top leaders in the state – Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh – attended the Saturday launch. This, according to party sources, was because the Congress chief disagreed with some of the contents of the party’s Madhya Pradesh manifesto.
Gandhi is not alone in his reservations. The manifesto’s contents have raised many eyebrows, even those of party leaders from other states. The primary reason for objection is the Congress party’s attempt to display its commitment to "soft Hindutva".
The Congress’ Madhya Pradesh manifesto has promised that a Congress government would develop the Ram Path Gaman, or the route Lord Ram is believed to have taken during 11 of his 14-year exile, which he apparently spent in the forests of Madhya Pradesh. There are also promises of benefits for Hindu priests.
However, what some in the Congress leadership have found most offensive is the commitment made on account of promoting the sale of cow urine. At one place, the manifesto not only commits to helping set up gaushalas (cow shelters) in each village panchayat — and sanctuaries for cows wherever possible — but also vows promoting commercial sale of manure, and even gau mutra (cow urine).
Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot conveyed to the party leadership he would prefer that the party did not borrow for its Rajasthan document some of the contents from its Madhya Pradesh manifesto.
While none has problems with setting up of gaushalas, the Congress chief, Gehlot and others are dismayed that its Madhya Pradesh unit has jettisoned the party’s commitment to ‘developing scientific temper’, particularly in the context of the promise to promote the sale of cow urine.
They point out that one of the fundamental duties of citizens according to the Constitution is “to develop scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. A party leader said it was one thing to visit temples and pray — as the Congress chief has done in the recent past — and another to jettison any commitment to scientific temper and start speaking the language of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS invests much in the promotion of cow urine sale as a panacea for all kinds of diseases, and claims other parts of a dead cow, including its horns, have medicinal properties. At least some in the party have not missed the irony that the Congress launched the Madhya Pradesh manifesto days before Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary. Nehru was committed to promoting scientific temper and rationalism.
The manifesto drafting exercise has become much more serious in the Congress party since Gandhi has taken over as the party chief. For the Gujarat Assembly polls last year, Congress leaders Sam Pitroda and Madhusudan Mistry had consulted a cross-section of stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive manifesto.
The Congress accomplished a similar exercise in Chhattisgarh. Its manifesto-drafting committee toured all the 24 districts of the state and claimed to have included inputs from farmers, tendu leaf workers, professionals and other stakeholders. It has listed over 200 organisations that it consulted.
Interestingly, at the launch of the manifesto, Congress leader T S Singh Deo, who was also the chairman of the manifesto committee of the party, said the manifesto was “dedicated to Rahul Gandhi and his vision for Chhattisgarh and its people and has been compiled with Gandhi’s own inputs”.
Party sources said the exhaustive manifesto-drafting exercises in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh reflected how weak the Congress party's structures in these states had become because of being out of power. Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for over two decades, and in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh for 15 years each. The desperation to return to power showed in its Madhya Pradesh manifesto.