Rise and Shine, will he?
The Jaipur meet is evidence that for Rahul Gandhi this is not a path strewn with roses
Sadiq Naqvi Jaipur
The two-day Chintan Shivir and the subsequent AICC meeting on the third day in the confines of the picturesque Birla complex in the pink city did not throw up as many surprises as one would have imagined. “Why have they got us here? They could have done it in Delhi,” a Congress leader was heard murmuring during the lunch break. The only surprise was perhaps the long-due announcement that came at the fag end of the second day that Rahul Gandhi will be the new Congress vice-president. It was perhaps the only saving grace on an otherwise uneventful day.
Later in the evening, even before Janardan Dwivedi, the powerful Congress general secretary, could come out of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting which was underway, to announce this big news, massive fireworks lit the Jaipur sky. NSUI and Youth Congress workers started gathering outside the venue and in other parts of the city. Even in Delhi, there was a crowd at 24, Akbar Road, the headquarters of the grand old party. All this left many surprised. Until now there was a strong feeling that the Gandhi family scion was still reluctant to accept a bigger role for himself and that he was content with working with the youth wing of the party.
This announcement was a well-guarded secret. “Wait till 7.30 pm and you will hear something,” said a Youth Congress leader who is also the son of a Union minister. He was not taken seriously. In the afternoon, Digvijaya Singh, in a candid interaction with some journalists, was noncommittal. “Don’t expect any such announcement,” he said.
However, as the evening progressed, it was becoming clear that some such announcement might be made. “Rahul Gandhi will be announced as the secretary general and Motilal Vora will be the vice-president,” a spokesperson told this reporter. “This arrangement will be done so that there is a layer of insulation between the mother and son,” informed another leader. It was later revealed that only ‘five or more’ top leaders knew of this decision which was reportedly put in place only a week in advance.
On the first day, in one of the sub-committees which was discussing ‘organisational challenges’, headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad, a proposal was put forth seeking Rahul’s official elevation. “It got a massive response. All members got up in support,” said a Congress leader. “This was orchestrated by the top leadership,” an insider told Hardnews. A similar demand was made in another sub-committee discussing
The announcement met with immediate jubilation. Sachin Pilot, Minister for Corporate Affairs, described it as a “historical moment”. “It’s a historic decision and we welcome it. It has energised party workers throughout the nation. We will go to Lok Sabha elections with a renewed vigour now. Rahul will be a unifying force for the Congress,” he said. Others like Jitin Prasada were even more ecstatic: “I am happy that he (Rahul) has accepted the responsibility and will be the face of the party in the 2014 polls. We want him to be the face of the party. He will drive the youth of the country.”
His views on pressing issues facing the nation are not known; he prefers to keep aloof and not speak out. His sustained silence on the upsurge in protest against the Delhi gangrape
Expectedly, all through the three days, which saw 300-plus top leaders converge in the first two days, and over 1,200 delegates on the third day, rhetoric dominated the event. “We have a proven track record of accomplishments. We appeal to all sections of the society. We articulate and champion the concerns of all, especially the weaker sections,” Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said in her opening address. This was despite the fact that there was considerable unease within the party on several contentious issues like continuous price rise, deregulation of diesel prices and the ‘scuttling’ of pro-people schemes like the Food Security Act. The passage of FDI in retail has also created resentment among large sections of the agrarian community.
Sonia Gandhi gave enough indications about Rahul Gandhi’s elevation in her opening address. “The last nine years have been a period of tremendous economic growth, social change and technological innovation. New aspirations are manifesting themselves. They call for new responses… A significant number of participants are from the younger generation. This reflects our priorities and resonates with the demographic reality of our country,” she said.
This was the first Chintan Shivir that the Congress has held when it is in power. The first two editions, at Panchmarhi in 1998 and at Shimla in 2003, were held when it was out of power. While, in 1998, it was decided that the party would try and go solo and strengthen its core, the 2003 meeting turned out to be more realistic when it was decided that the party would have to deal with the age of coalition politics.
This time Congress strategists had a huge task on hand: seeking consensus on ‘reforms’ which entails continuing the neo-liberal onslaught, devising ways of dealing with coalition partners, especially after it had been held to ransom by partners like the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, and finding a way to strengthen the organisational structure which is crumbling in many states. It was alleged that in the Gujarat assembly elections some Congress politicos had tacitly batted for the BJP.