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Harkirat Singh, Hindustan Times
Amritsar, October 10, 2012
On a 2-day introspection tour to Punjab, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Rahul Gandhi got a fair idea of the reasons for the Congress' defeat in the January assembly polls during his interaction with party workers, many of whom minced no words in conveying their displeasure on the style of functioning of the senior leadership of the state which had left them alienated.

After spending an hour and a half with the senior leadership of the state Congress at a resort on the outskirts of the city on Wednesday, the AICC general secretary made a brief analysis on the reasons for the debacle from the feedback he got from the block presidents. 

The first conclusion he drew was that tickets were distributed by the senior party leaders without taking the grassroots workers into confidence. 

The second reason on which he was in agreement with the block presidents was the late distribution of tickets and the third reason was that no efforts were made by the party's frontline leaders to pacify the rebels who had filed their nomination papers.

The fourth reason was that party tickets were given to the kith and kin of some influential families without taking into account the winnability aspect.

In an attempt to get to the depth of the ticket distribution issue, Gandhi sought to know the number of seats on which the party had made the wrong choices.

The response came from all sides of the venue with one block president saying that this number was around 28 while another put it at 30 and yet another shouted 25.

A senior party leader when asked about the entire exercise said, "It was not futile. It was a fruitful interaction and a lot emerged from it".

On his arrival for the meeting with PPCC leaders, present and former MPs, present and past MLAs and district and block presidents, Gandhi was welcomed by Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief Capt Amarinder Singh. Seated alongside Gandhi and Amarinder on the stage were Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) Leader Sunil Jakhar and Congress incharge of Punjab, Gulchain Singh Charak.

When Amarinder started talking about FDI and other policies of the UPA-government in his welcome address, the AICC general secretary got up with mike in hand and chose to make it clear that he had come here to talk to party workers and know the reasons for the defeat in the assembly polls as had been confident of a Congress emerging victory.

Congress sources present at the meeting later told HT that the first to speak was Tanda MLA Sangat Singh Gilchian who alleged that money played a major role in the distribution of tickets.

He gave the case of the son of a late Congress leader who was not given the ticket as his 'rival' used his money power to purchase the ticket.

A number of block presidents who spoke later endorsed the viewpoints of the MLA.

Another speaker felt that Congress would not have lost had tickets been distributed after taking into consideration the merit of each contender. 

Yet another went a step further to put the blame of the loss on the senior leadership of the state unit.

District presidents also spoke of total lack of coordination between the senior leaders and the workers.

Then there were others who claimed that 'defectors from other parties' were preferred over loyal leaders who had served the party for years.

Voices were also raised against indiscipline in the party and the manner in which rebels who had contested against the official party candidates were taken back into the party fold after being expelled. 

Congressmen also spoke of harassment at the hands of Akali leaders and the failure on the part of the senior leaders to come to their rescue.

All through the meeting, Gandhi kept his focus on those who were seated at the rear and did not turn an eye even towards the MPs and MLAs and others.

At no point did he try to interrupt any of the speakers.  Eager to speak to their leader, Congressmen kept raising their hands but then due to the time factor he could not have listened to all the hands that were raised.

However before departing he told party workers that his exercise was far from over and if need be he would make another trip to Punjab very shortly. 

He asked party colleagues that in case they had any other suggestions to offer they could e-mail viewpoints to the AICC headquarters or could even write to him.

Second meeting of the day

Later in the day he met the Punjab Youth Congress (PYC) leadership including the in-charge of Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituencies at BR Resorts on the Amritsar-Attari highway.

He allowed the youth leaders from the districts to give vent to their feelings so that he could get a fair idea of the issues that need to be sorted out to put the Congress on the right track.

"The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere and leaders gave a frank opinion on the ways and means to strengthen the party. They also made suggestions on the need for improving the rapport with the senior wing of the party", PYC chief Vikram Chaudhary who coordinated this interaction told HT.

Before departing for Chandigarh, Gandhi held a separate meeting with the leaders of the rural wing of the Amritsar District Congress Committee (DCC) at BR resorts.

In this meeting the leaders which included DCC (rural) chief Harpartap Ajanla, Raja Sansi MLA Sukhbinder Singh Sukh Sarkari and others gave their viewpoints on strengthening the party.

They also spoke about atrocities on Congress workers after the elections which were on the rise and also made a reference to the misuse of central funds by the state government.

Gandhi in the company of Amarinder left for Chandigarh in the evening where he will meet past PPCC presidents and all former and present DCC chiefs on Thursday.

According to Fatehgarh Churian MLA Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, the AIIC general secretary will also be meeting party workers who have been victimised or booked in false cases by the SAD-BJP government.

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