Addressing the Congress Chintan Shivir in Jaipur, party chief Sonia Gandhi, signifying a paradigm shift in the thinking of our political class, drew the attention of the her party functionaries to changing social scenario of the country. By taking to streets on several occasions for the last two years, the Indian middle class has hit the headlines across the world. First, the people of this section of society joined anti-graft movement led by Anna Hazare and again staged massive demonstrations to express their anger over brutal gang rape of a 23-year old paramedical girl on December 16 night in the national capital. Emergence of India as a strong economic power has significantly empowered the middle class people enhancing their aspirations and expectations. No political party can now overlook the significance of this section of the society. However, it’s a different story that some people tried to trash the role of middle class by terming their passion displayed during Anna movement and Delhi gang rape protest as something inspired by the social media. Some political parties went on saying that the movements joined by these people were mere a phenomena of big cities. In fact, most of the political parties including Congress framed policies and set agendas focusing on the poor and downtrodden.

The Congress brought MNREGA for the welfare of the poor living in the rural areas of the country and the party reaped huge political dividends. MNREGA’s success has prompted the ruling party to implement its ambitious scheme- Food Security Scheme- focused at the welfare of deprived people. Welfare schemes for the poor and the people living in rural areas have been touted as electoral planks. No doubt, poverty and backwardness are the realities of Indian society, but at the same time the importance of swelling middle class can also not be overlooked. The middle class is not just well educated rather they are associated with each other through information technology. Underestimating their role will be a big mistake. In fact, most of the middle class people were underprivileged in their early days. Likewise, most of the parents of the youths hailing from this group have faced the scourge of poverty. Perhaps, this is the reason why the people of this class are comparatively more serious about their rights.

If the Congress moves ahead as per Sonia Gandhi’s reflections, it could make a significant impact on the functioning of the UPA government as well as the policies of the Centre. It is also likely that new policies would be especially focused on the middleclass. If it happens, it will be a judicious step in a right direction especially in the wake of growing migration of people from rural parts of the country to the big cities mounting immense pressure on the civic amenities available there. Infrastructure in the urban areas is already in bad shape and it is unable to provide accommodation, employment and sanitation to the people. It seems that urban middle class was ignored while making policies for the welfare of the people of hinterlands in the country, the poor and also for the growth in the field of agriculture. It will be interesting to see whether Sonia Gandhi’s views expressed in the Jaipur conclave makes any impact on the functioning of the government or not.

As the price of diesel was hiked ahead of the Congress’ Jaipur meet, the issue of skyrocketing prices has once again come to the fore. It cannot be overlooked. The decision to raise the diesel price is a right decision from economic point of view; however, it is going to have a cascading impact on the prices of almost all the commodities and services. The uncontrolled inflation witnessed recently has badly hit the people in both the rural and the urban areas. Though Sonia Gandhi enumerated most of the challenges presently faced by the country, it’s difficult to decipher why she remained silent over the issue of price rise, which could have repercussion. Government’s performance on the economic fronts has been disappointing. Some changes being felt after P Chidambaram’s return to the Ministry of Finance though, he has to go a long way in his quest to bring substantial changes in the country’s economic growth.

Sonia Gandhi has focused on the two main issues- corruption and women’s empowerment. After the gruesome incident of December 16 in Delhi, everyone feels that women are really unsafe in the society and one of the major reasons behind this is the society’s denial to acknowledge their importance. Nevertheless all sorts of developments in society, women are considered as second class citizens. This situation persists even after significant achievements accomplished by women in every walk of life during past two-three decades. The Congress president has rightly stressed on the need to change the mindset of her party workers over the issue of women’s empowerment. The Congress is the party with widest presence in the country. If the approach of leaders of the party changes, it will be easier to change the outlook of the society.

Nothing has happened in the country over corruption except long and wide debate over the issue since the very beginning. It seems that Sonia Gandhi’s advice to her party men to find a solution to the menace of corruption will be of no avail. Corruption will be curbed only when the course of politics in the country changes. If Sonia Gandhi is committed to put a check on rampant corruption in the country, she is required to bring radical changes in the functioning of her party. However, her speech at Jaipur meet failed to focus on it. During debate over the issue of corruption after the hunger strike of Anna Hazare in 2011, the leaders of all political parties in the Parliament had made tall claims to check the menace but when the Lokpal bill was tabled in the both Houses, their words bore no fruit. Our political parties could not frame a single anti-graft law, Lokpal, during past 44 years. Politics is the origin of almost all corrupt practices. Politicians cannot shed their share of responsibilities in abetting corruption. Despite being aware of the fact that globalisation has drastically changed whole structure of the society, our leaders denied to change their conduct. The accountability to curb the scourge of corruption does not lie only on the shoulders of the Congress, but the party is required to take a firm initiative in this direction as it has been the largest political party and leading a government at the Centre. Central government has been under fire due to charges of corruption during past three and a half year, but it could not propose any method to put a check on graft. People of all sections of the society are at the end of their tether over the issue of corruption. Even a feeling of insecurity among our womenfolk is also rooted to corruption. If the Congress is really serious to tackle corruption, making women feel safe and secured and reassure the people of middle class, mere right kind of contemplation will not help but the party will have to be proactive in this regard.        

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on January 20, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)