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HindustanTimes Tue,30 Sep 2014

Pankaj Vohra

Cong conclave: A step forward or an exercise in nothingness?
Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, November 12, 2012
First Published: 01:03 IST(12/11/2012)
Last Updated: 01:42 IST(12/11/2012)

There are several ways of looking at the Congress conclave in Suraj Kund on Friday. The call by party president Sonia Gandhi to ministers to be accessible to workers was in fact an admission that this was not happening at present.

The setting up of the coordination committee with three sub-groups to ensure better interaction between the party and the government can be seen as an attempt by the party to distance itself from unpopular decisions taken by the government as also to create an impression that the Congress had no role in the scams that led to accusations against some ministers of the United Progressive Alliance.

Thirdly, the convening of the conclave, an event held after nine years is also viewed by political observers as a signal to the workers to be prepared for elections, which are slated for 2014, but could happen earlier.

However, the absence of Pradesh Congress presidents and some chief ministers from the meet suggests that a more extensive and inclusive congregation may be held in January or even earlier. The comment about ministers not being accessible to workers is also being interpreted in party circles to be equally applicable to top Congress functionaries, whose interaction with grassroots activists needs to be accelerated.

The party's main problem is that its rank and file is getting substantially and considerably disillusioned with confusing signals emanating from its top leaders, including those in the government.

While Sonia Gandhi used to have regular dialogues with block and district level functionaries in the initial years of her presidentship, this practice got interrupted during the period when the party came to power. Hence, the organisation has weakened, a fact that both Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi conceded after the UP debacle in March this year.

There has also been resentment among loyal Congressmen against those who have joined from other parties and have come to occupy important positions.

The top leadership, however, wants to re-energise the organisation, something that was evident from the huge rally at Ramlila grounds on Sunday last. But the timing of the rally, meant to focus on Foreign Direct Investment, coincided with polling in Himachal where it is a non-issue.

The lack of coordination between the party and the government also came to the fore when the hike in cooking gas prices was announced, then reversed three days before the Himachal polls - making it difficult for party workers to explain the logic behind the decision to the electorate.

During Friday's gathering, some leaders did point out that Congress and its government were suffering from a negative perception, which needs to be corrected. How? Nobody seemed to know. Neither was there any concrete discussion on the twin issues that have come to haunt the ruling dispensation - price rise and corruption.

Many Congress watchers wonder if the conclave was, at best, an exercise in nothingness.


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