Congress takes on RSS, sides with Dalits, mocks BJP's fear of the 'Gandhi' name

Bugle for the 2024 Lok Sabha campaign sounded at the Indian National Congress' 139th Foundation Day celebrations

Flag hoisting by senior Congress leaders at the Umrer rally grounds, near Nagpur, on the party's 139th Foundation Day on 28 December 2023. The Gandhi topis were prominent this day (photo: Sunny Shende)
Flag hoisting by senior Congress leaders at the Umrer rally grounds, near Nagpur, on the party's 139th Foundation Day on 28 December 2023. The Gandhi topis were prominent this day (photo: Sunny Shende)

Sujata Anandan

Nagpur did not have enough space to contain the crowd that headed into Indian National Congress' heartland for its 139th Foundation Day celebration today, 28 December 2023.

So the organisers finally moved the rally to larger grounds in the coal- mining town of Umrer, an hour's drive from the city centre in Nagpur.

And the crowds did not disappoint, as they thronged the grounds and occupied every chair available, with more people standing in the aisles even as Congress Seva Dal workers attempted to guide them to the edges.

It was in Nagpur at its 1920 session that Mahatma Gandhi had redefined the Congress as a secular, inclusive force that would seek full Independence for India through every possible peaceful means, and would have no dealings with the British. Those within the Congress who disagreed set up the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. But a century later, the Congress is attempting to essay a national resurgence again out of Nagpur.

Nagpur, at the geographical heart of India as well, is known for two political movements that had a great impact on the citizens of this nation through the early 20th century and to the modern day.

The first was the upper-caste movement of the RSS.

The second was the Ambedkarite movement of the 'lesser' citizens, wherein lakhs of followers of Dr B.R. Ambedkar shed the shackles of Hinduism and converted to Buddhism in response to his exhortation to educate themselves, to unite, organise and emancipate all Dalits like themselves.

At today’s Nagpur meet, it was clear that the Congress was letting go of neither Mahatma Gandhi nor Ambedkar, in its renewed bid to combat the RSS.

Said Nana Patole, the state Congress president who had organised the huge show, “The RSS is today as afraid of a Gandhi as it was during the Independence movement.

"(The name) ‘Gandhi’ gives them nightmares, and so they try every means to overcome the charisma of that name. But Gandhi-ji was not afraid of them then and no Gandhi is afraid of them now,” he added.

Interestingly, the top question of the day that reporters threw at Congress leaders today was on the Enforcement Directorate’s latest targeting of Priyanka Gandhi—a Central government pattern of action the senior party members have often derided as a fear response.

But considering the Congress was also here to cock a snook at the RSS on the latter's home turf, we should note there has also lately been an attempt in the region to salvage the RSS' deservedly casteist reputation by appropriating Dr Ambedkar.

It may be noted that Nagpur—and Vidarbha—have the highest number of Dalit voters in India, with a 23 per cent population in the region. That is one of the reasons why the BJP, leading strong governments both at the Centre and in the state, has not dared to truncate Vidarbha from Maharashtra. They are afraid that then the state would go into Dalit hands, and edge out the upper-caste leaders of the RSS.

So today, the Congress underscored the fact that Nagpur was the deeksha bhoomi (site of emanicipation) of Dr Ambedkar and that the grand old party would never allow it to go saffron and become a Sangh bhoomi. The messaging seemed right, as the crowds reacted with enthusiasm. 

Clearly, the Congress is getting ready to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections ahead, as it sounds the poll bugle through India’s central nervous system.

Today’s rally seemed a successful first step, displaying readiness in line with the new legend of 'Hain Taiyaar Hum (We Are Ready)', with pugnacious assertions of the Congress goals and ideals by all leaders.

Followers will now be watching with hope as it moves ahead from here on its Bharat Nyay Yatra and consolidates plans with the rest of the INDIA bloc.

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