In mid-January 2004, thousands of activists from across the world and all corners of India, gathered in Mumbai under the banner of World Social Forum. “Another world is possible,” they concluded and Indian activists among them returned to their pockets of influence with the resolve to work towards the defeat of the "anti-people" Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government in the Lok Sabha elections that were three months away.
It is difficult to gauge if, and how much, effect the work of these activists had on the eventual Lok Sabha results of 2004, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 138 seats and lost the status of the single largest party by a mere seven seats to the Congress, which won 145 seats. The BJP couldn’t return to power at the Centre for the next 10 years. But the party -- along with the larger Sangh Parivar -- didn’t forget the lessons of that time when it eventually came to power in Delhi in 2014, and the Narendra Modi government tightened the sources of funding of several non-governmental organisations, or NGOs.
Now the Congress has also remembered the lessons of not just the freedom struggle, but also 2004, with the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Tuesday giving a call for a "second freedom struggle" against the Modi government to combat the ideology of "hate and violence", which had led to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
The occasion was the Mahatma’s 150th birthday and the venue was Sevagram, an ashram set up by him in 1936. It was also the venue of the CWC that passed the resolution on July 14, 1942, that demanded of the British to ‘Quit India’. The Congress leadership, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, had also met at Sevagram six weeks after Gandhi was assassinated.
Beyond the symbolism of Sevagram and the discovery of the Congress party under its new chief of the Mahatma and his message, the Congress strategy is also to reach out to all across the country who still believe in the ideals of Gandhi, and it hopes they would contribute in the party’s fight against the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine.
In the run-up to the Sevagram and to strengthen this outreach, the Congress chief appointed Madhusudan Mistry as the chairman of the newly-formed civic and social outreach wing of the party. Mistry, a senior leader from Gujarat, played a key role in drafting the party’s manifesto for the Gujarat assembly polls, that was praised for promising a navasarjan, or rejuvenation, based on “Gandhian and Ambedkarite values”.
Mistry-headed wing has been tasked with making a list of non-governmental organisations, particularly those which espouse Gandhian values, and also outfits involved in social work, and reaching out to them to help the Congress counter the RSS. According to party sources, several ashrams and temple trusts have come forward in recent months offering to help the Congress counter the ideological challenge posed by the RSS-BJP. “But the party lacked a dedicated team to engage with these organisations, which is now in place under Mistry,” a Congress source said.
On Sunday, ‘waterman’ and Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh started his padyatra, or march, to spread awareness about the protest fast being undertaken by 86-year-old Gyan Swaroop Sanand, or G D Agarwal. The former professor of civil and environmental engineering at IIT, has been on a fast for over 100-days to highlight the “critical” state of Ganga. Congress leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat has joined the march. Congress president Rahul Gandhi also tweeted asking people to join the subsequent Gomukh to Gangasagar ‘Ganga Sadhbhavana Yatra’ from Tuesday. The march, the party hopes, will expose the "hoax" of PM Modi's 'Namami Gange' campaign.
On Tuesday, Ekta Parishad, which describes itself as a mass-based Gandhian organization, began a march comprising 25,000 landless and homeless poor. They will march from Gwalior to Delhi to demand fair distribution of land and policy level changes. At Sevagram, the Congress passed two resolutions, including one to express solidarity with western Uttar Pradesh farmers, led by Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Naresh Tikait, protesting on Delhi-UP border. The Congress president tweeted how the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh are marking the anniversary of the Mahatma by “ruthlessly beating up” farmers on Ahimsa Divas, or non-violent, day.
Learning from the Gandhian methods, the Congress party has also began identifying 10 workers in each polling booth of the country, or at least wherever its organisation is still somewhat vibrant. Its workers will distribute 100 million pamphlets/booklets across India, which will mention the principle tenets of the Congress ideology, a list of failures of the Modi government and issues of respective districts and states facing the people.
Congress workers, as used to be the case when the Mahatma was at the helm of the Congress, will also go door to door to collect donations from common people, from a minimum donation of Rs 5 to maximum of Rs 5,000, and give hologram coupons as proof.
In its resolution passed on Tuesday and to underscore its commitment to fight the RSS, the CWC noted the "blatant hypocrisy of the RSS that vilified and rejected Mahatma Gandhi during his lifetime, and which today has brazenly proclaimed itself to be his champion." The resolution noted: "It is its (RSS) ideology that was responsible for spreading the atmosphere of hate that led to the Mahatma’s tragic assassination."