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Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
February 02, 2009
The Congress, country’s largest as well as only truly national party, has perhaps correctly decided not have political alliances at the national level. The decision was on expected lines and taken formally at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to pre-empt efforts by some of the allies to stake their claims in areas where they have only a marginal presence. The deliberations have made it abundantly clear that the seat-sharing arrangement with allies in various states shall continue or negotiated wherever needed.

The crucial meeting where Rahul Gandhi made a strong plea for tickets to be granted to generation next particularly in seats where the party had been faring poorly the past few times is also an indicator of things to come. The Congress, which has the advantage of having more young leaders than its adversaries, is obviously planning to force the agenda on the question of a  generational change in Indian politics. In other words, the decks are being cleared for Rahul Gandhi to take complete control. Whether this will happen during the 15th Lok Sabha or subsequently is to be seen.

The changeover to a younger leadership is not confined to the Congress alone. Every party has seen the writing on the wall and will follow suit. The first indication of power shifting to the youth was when Ashok Chavan was made the Maharashtra Chief Minister. It was not so much his ability to govern that was taken into account but his symbolic value. Sharad Pawar, who is hoping to be a contender for the Prime Minister’s position in the post-poll scenario, has also made it clear that his daughter will contest in his place from his Lok Sabha constituency.

The power to youth campaign is gathering momentum elsewhere too. The Congress agreeing to make Omar Abdullah of the National Conference the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister is also a step in this direction. Taking the cue, Sukhbir Badal took no time in occupying the number two slot in his father’s government in Punjab. There are many other young leaders who are certainly going to get a bigger role soon.

The outcome could be that even in the seats referred to by Rahul Gandhi, many youngsters from political families may come to the forefront and carry the Congress battle into areas where the party has been suffering reverses. The son rise is not confined to the Congress but cuts across the party lines. The theme of power to the youth could become the main plank on which the next Lok Sabha elections may be contested. This would leave many aspirants like L.K. Advani and Sharad Pawar grasping for new ideas and strategies to reiterate their claim for the top job. The shift of power does not imply that Dr Manmohan Singh will not be the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress. It suggests that he will begin to serve as a mentor in some ways to the upcoming leadership. He has the integrity, the image and scholarship to do so.

The CWC decision also indicates that the Congress is clear that its allies must not take it for granted. By rejecting suggestions of the allies fighting under the UPA banner, the Congress has sent a message to some regional parties out of the UPA fold that it may do business with them in the post-poll scenario. The UPA came together for five years and has served its utility fully. It is neither essential nor compulsory for the same combinations to remain after the Parliamentary polls. As long as the combination has secularism as its basic principle, new partners can be brought on board. The Congress strategy is to first realise its full potential and then draw strength from old allies and also new ones if need be.

There are also indications that the Congress is planning to pre-empt the ambitions of some of its allies. For instance, in Maharashtra, its workers believe that the party can do well on its own and that the alliance with the NCP helps the latter more than itself. The NCP needs the Congress in the same manner as the Samajwadi Party needs the Congress in UP to get numbers. There is every possibility that if things do not get sorted out, the Congress in these two states can explore the option of going it alone. Politics it would seem is the art of the impossible and the field is now wide open for all sorts of permutations and combinations. Between us.