Rise and Shine, will he?

Published: January 31, 2013 - 16:30

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
political challenges.

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
was uncanny

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.

Such complaints have also been coming in for a long time from other states like UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Jammu and Kashmir, where the Congress has been out of power. “The National Conference has caused considerable damage to our organisation in Kashmir,” a state officebearer pointed out. This worry manifested in the Congress chief’s address as well; she said that though the Congress has been at the Centre for the last nine years it has lost states which were long considered its bastions. She pointed out how the party lost its traditional votebank to regional players.

All these issues were discussed at length in the closed door discussions. There were other pressing issues too. Like the entry of turncoats. When Dwivedi brought this up with a remark that entry of such people and their immediate elevation was hurting the prospects of the party, Madhusudan Mistry countered, “We cannot block the entry of others.” The issue became big when Naseeb Pathan, a member of the Legislative Council in UP, rebuffed Mistry; he said he had himself come from the Jana Sangh and thus had little clue about the Congress. Pathan targetted Finance Minister P Chidambaram who too was present. “It is the prerogative of the Congress chief as to how outsiders are to be dealt with within the party. How can people who have themselves come from other parties be commenting on these things,” Pathan later told Hardnews.  It is learnt that the party is contemplating a three-year cooling-off period for all ‘non-Congress new members’. The party might take recourse to elections to decide who enters the high-powered CWC.

The party, which has appeared on the backfoot all through the second term, starting with the CWG scam, the 2G scam, the RSS onslaught via the anti-corruption campaign, and the anti-rape protests, seems to be finally breathing easy

To shore up its grassroots presence, there were several suggestions to rope in panchayat members and to devise a credible way of electing district-level representatives and state units. Expectedly, most delegates insisted on elections.

On alliances, there was no clarity. The party has formed a committee under Defence Minister AK Antony to work out the possible alliance scenario for 2014, but there is still ambiguity if one goes by the ‘Jaipur Declaration’ which is mostly silent on the question of alliances. It seems that most in the party, which is a typical Congress characteristic, are desperately waiting for the ‘Rahul Gandhi charisma’ to click and thereby take them home in the 2014 polls.


If one goes by the track record of the newly elected vice-president, it is far from impressive. He decisively failed in UP and Bihar, electorally two of the most important states in India,  even while old-timers are expecting that he will change the fortunes of the party. He has no experience in dealing with alliance partners. 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 Delhi upsurge in protest against the gangrape was uncanny. This shattered his cultivated ‘youth icon’ image. When he did speak, as after the police firing in Bhatta Parsaul village, it boomeranged badly. 

It is an open secret that Rahul has had an important role in the working of the party. Be it the last cabinet reshuffle when many of the ‘young’, including Sachin Pilot and others, were given plum portfolios, or be it organisational matters, all decisions carried his imprint. “When Sonia Gandhi went abroad for her treatment, it was Rahul who was taking decisions even though there was a committee headed by Antony,” said a senior leader.

With Gandhi’s official elevation, the party has sent out a strong message. First, the first family will continue to exercise control. Second, the party which has appeared on the wbackfoot all through the second term, starting with the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam, the RSS onslaught via the anti-corruption campaign, and, more lately, the anti-rape protests, seems to be finally breathing easy. This was evident in the way the top leadership responded to the Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi question. “Who knows Modi outside Gujarat? What is he outside social media,” a combative Digvijaya asked.

The manner in which Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde openly attacked the BJP and RSS and said that they were running terror camps indicates that the Congress might be in full-blown attack mode. Till now it has been defensive when it came to Hindutva terror or Modi and the Gujarat genocide of 2002. Secularists have repeatedly accused the Congress of peddling another version of ‘soft Hindutva’.  Many of its leaders were openly heard complaining that they had been asked to go soft on Modi lest it polarise the electorate in his favour. 

Congress insiders explain that most ‘day to day’ work will be Rahul’s responsibility with only matters of extreme importance landing up on Sonia Gandhi’s desk. It is learnt that all officebearers will now report to Rahul. The organisation is expected to go through a re-jig. He will apparently be more accessible and will tour the states afresh to grasp issues on the ground and problems plaguing the party. However, sources discount the possibility that old-timers at the top will be packed off and replaced by younger blood. “We have passed through all stages to get here. Everyone should get his due in due course,” a senior officebearer commented.

With many states slated to go to elections, Rahul has a tough road ahead. And with the Congress and UPA reasonably discredited, surely this is not a path strewn with roses.

The Jaipur meet is evidence that for Rahul Gandhi this is not a path strewn with roses
Sadiq Naqvi Jaipur

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This story is from print issue of HardNews