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The Rahul Gandhi Road show


Congress could finally name the family scion as the next prime ministerial candidate as demands for his induction begin to gather momentum, reports Pramod Kumar
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: December 20, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Rahul Gandhi Road show |

On December 8, as results of the assembly elections started to come in suggesting a wave in favour of the BJP and its star Narendra Modi accompanied by stunning reverses for the Congress, the mood at 10 Janpath was somber. Sonia Gandhi who along with her family was closely following the TV coverage realized the full extent of groundswell against the Congress-led UPA government.

According to party sources, she used the occasion to throw up ideas to win back the peoples’ confidence, proposing changes in the Congress organizational structure, looking at how best to contain rampant factionalism in the party, the possibility of introducing new faces and to teach a lesson to those who had worked against the party’s interests: in short, all things that would help them bounce back from what appears to be a certain defeat in the General Elections.

Congress veteran Janardan Dwivedi who was present there, told Sonia and others that the time to take hard decisions had come. Minutes later, Dwivedi was on air angrily attacking those in the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC) who had sabotaged Sheila Dixit’s campaign. Salman Khurshid’s call to teach saboteurs a lesson and Beni Prasad Verma mouthing the same sentiments was a sign that the Gandhi family was back in charge of the situation, alive to the dangers of party politics and the rising power of the BJP and an unknown little pretender called Arvind Kejriwal.

The results were for all to see. DPCC boss and former MP Jay Prakash Agrawal, when he reached the site of the review meeting to assess the Delhi assembly collapse, had got along his resignation letter which was duly handed in the presence of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Heads of Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh Congress units were also expected to follow suit but they did not.

In the light of hectic inner-party deliberations therefore, the rise and rise of Rahul Gandhi as the party’s prime ministerial candidate looks pretty much on the cards when the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meets at a special session on January 17 in Delhi. Its purpose, according to leaders, is twofold: one, to bring about organisational changes in the Congress structure, the second being related to the first premise, an operation cleanup within the party rank and file.

Days later, a high-level Congress meeting convened by Sonia and Rahul and attended only by a very few; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finance minister P Chidambaram, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and home minister SushilKumar Shinde, came to the conclusion that inflation was the root cause for the electoral collapse and steps were needed immediately to put a lid on galloping prices. An economist PM had been unable to handle the situation with any degree of confidence while finance ministry boss Chidambaram was told to forget macro and micro-economic details and concentrate instead on implementing measures that would line up the pockets of the aam aadmi. If there was to be a UPA 3, then inflation needed to be tackled. Shinde was told to tighten his grip on the law and order machinery.

Which is precisely why a major organizational revamp became the background for Sonia Gandhi’s first meeting with the media after the assembly elections debacle. She told the press that the name of Congress’s prime ministerial candidate would be announced well in advance. This was the first sign from the all powerful Congress president that someone other than Manmohan Singh could be considered. Until now, it was being assumed that a UPA 3 could have the same lineup as its two earlier versions, with Singh as head of the government - a position reiterated in abundance by the mother-son duo.

Now suddenly after the assembly elections, the atmospherics seems to be changing – if it has not changed already. Rahul Gandhi’s rather abrasive interjection at the Delhi Press Club where he publicly denounced the cabinet decision aimed at shielding convicted politicians, is being cited as another example to show that the party high command is quite miffed with Manmohan Singh’s handling of the main economic issues that hit the common man and inflation tops that list.

Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said as much in couched language. The Congress high command, from time to time, impresses upon the prime minister and finance minister to keep the common man in mind when deciding policies, particularly now when the general elections loom large. Sonia and Rahul too have made similar requests. My complaint with the finance ministry is that too many pro-people programmes have not been given financial sanction by them, he stated, adding that he had registered his protest in the matter.
 The other serious problem faced by the Congress in their quest for a third term is gross indiscipline. In the assembly elections it was clear that Rahul Gandhi’s formula of giving tickets only to ‘winnable’ candidates had been thrown out of the window even before the ink had dried on the paper. For instance, before the assembly polls, Rahul had instructed senior MP leaders like Digvijay Singh, Kantilal Bhuria, leader of opposition in MP assembly Ajay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia to sink their differences, at least until the elections were through. There was a symbolic show of unity for a couple of days and then it was back to square one. There is little doubt, say party leaders, that there was massive sabotage on the day of the elections and the Congress was routed in the state.

The same was the story in Delhi where the party, despite Sheila Dixit’s three terms, was unable to enter double digits. Questions party general secretary Pankaj: ‘‘When Rahul Gandhi called a meeting of state in charges where elections had been held, they should have been asked to put in their papers. Unless the message goes down in the cadres about accountability for actions, it will be very difficult to enforce discipline and rid it of warring camps.’’

But senior party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar – who has emerged as a principle spokesman for the Congress post the assembly results – believes it is just as well that the party lost. If that had not happened, he believes, the opportunity to introspect would have been lost. Aiyar has gone on record to say that the party now needs a new prime minister, a refrain that may become sharper as D-day approaches.

It is to deal with these prickly issues that the AICC session has been convened in Delhi. It will become the third special Congress session after two previous plenary sessions, one in December 2010, at Burari in north Delhi and the Jaipur Chintin Shivir in January this year, which laid down parameters of party policy. This time there is going to be a difference though: there is good chance that Rahul will be officially anointed as the man to rival BJP’s Narendra Modi in the electoral sweepstakes, 2014, and a formal approval could be sought of the session.

According to well informed members in the Congress, as a prelude to this special session, some important organizational decisions could be taken though political resolutions. The menu is most likely to include discussions on the poll manifesto and the choice of candidates; the first one could well turn out to be a mere formality, the second far trickier as people who do not get the party ticket are most likely to stand as independents or even rebels. The Congress knows its traditional weaknesses which have a propensity to show up time and again.

Predicts Janardan Dwivedi: ‘‘The resolutions approved by this special session will change the face of the Congress and provide it with that adrenalin that it requires before going in for General Elections.’’

It is important to recall that it was at the Burari session that the demand for a larger role for Rahul Gandhi came up for the first time. Then too, Sonia’s response was similar. Everything will be done when the time comes, she had said. Her own advice to the leaders was to keep in close touch with cadres and party workers, but that never happened and the committed Congress worker decided to spend time at home rather than in the constituencies.

 Likewise at the Jaipur Chintin Shivir, Rahul was elevated as Congress vice-president. The overriding resolve there was to promote youth power as the panacea of all ills. Resolutions were passed against party indiscipline, inflation and the need to take action those responsible for the UP assembly elections washout, but ultimately everything came to naught.

Now only time will tell whether the Delhi super session will be a repeat of the Jaipur Chintin Shivir – tall promises but no action on ground – or a grand Rahul Gandhi road show in which the family scion will finally assert himself and turn things around for his party which is currently under the hammer.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017