‘Ideological Battle’ To ‘Caste Census’: Congress Lok Sabha Poll Manifesto Emphasises Social Justice For Youth, Women And Poor

Apart from the caste census, the Congress party also offered 25 guarantees under three central themes - work, wealth and welfare.

Suresh K Pandey
Congress President Mallikarkun Kharge with senior party leaders Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, KC Venugopal and P. Chidambaram releases the party's manifesto Photo: Suresh K Pandey

With the Congress party releasing its poll manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections on Friday, the central focus of the contest is all set to be ‘a contest over ideology’. While responding to a question pertaining to the probable face of the opposition INDIA bloc, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said, “It is an ideological battle and if we come to power, the alliance partners together would decide the name.”

Though the question of ideology directly didn’t come up in the speeches of the party president Mallikarjun Kharge or the drafting committee chairperson P Chidambaram, the proposal to amend the anti-defection law showed the party’s insistence on ideology. Emphasising the necessity of such a law, Chidambaram said, “Those who defect need to be immediately disqualified”. This narrative of disqualifying defected candidates has been doing the rounds for a while, even from the civil society organisations.

Recently, in Pune, some unclaimed banners came up across streets saying that the candidates could seek votes only if they promise not to defect in the middle of their tenure. And for Congress, it becomes essential at a time when several of its leaders have left the organisation and joined the BJP in the last few years. The national spokesperson of the party, Gaurav Vallabh’s statement that he couldn’t stay with the party where he had to raise anti-Sanatan slogans and his consequent move to join the BJP also was not received well by the party, say insiders.

Notably, another major ideological contention for the Congress - as found in the manifesto - lies in the promise of the nationwide caste census. The grand old party has been seeking caste census since Bihar CM Nitish Kumar - who was also a former ally of the INDIA bloc and later jumped the boat to join NDA - conducted a caste survey in the state and released the report. Gandhi, during his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, raised the caste census issue on many occasions. Addressing the yatra, he said that neither the corporate nor media houses in the country have adequate representations from the OBCs, Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised communities.

The promise of caste census appears to be a significant one as it has been made on the birth anniversary of Babu Jagajivan Ram, a Dalit Congress leader who was with the party from 1947 to 1984. Kharge while evoking the legacy of Ram said, “The Congress party stands with the marginalised and upholds the values of social justice.” 

Apart from the caste census, the party also offered 25 guarantees under three central themes - work, wealth and welfare. The party, if it comes to power, has promised to give Rs 1 lakh per year to the poor women besides offering Rs 1 lakh support for the apprenticeship of the youth. They would also bring MSP laws for which the farmers have been protesting for a long time now. The minimum wage of labourers would be fixed at Rs 400 a day, said Kharge referring to the performance of the UPA-1 government that brought in schemes like MNREGA and passed laws like Right to Information, Right to Education and National Food Security Act.  

While talking about economic growth, former finance minister Chidambaram recounted how the UPA-1 government under the leadership of economist Dr Manmohan Singh achieved 8.5 per cent growth rate that got reduced to 5.9 per cent by the end of the last financial year. The Congress promises to boost growth by building industries, infrastructure and pulling in foreign investments, he added.

The guarantees of the Congress seem to be interesting ones at a time when ‘Modi’s guarantees’ have become the war cry of the ruling party. However, Chidambaram while debunking Modi’s guarantees as ‘empty guarantee’, said that Congress gives ‘concrete guarantee’ unlike Modi. He also asked, “Where are those 2 crores jobs that Modi ji had promised? Has the income of farmers doubled? I can give a list of failed promises.”

As caste census and the fight over ideology take centre-stage in Congress’s campaign, the question arises - will there be a resurgence of Mandal versus Kamandal politics in the coming days?