The day-lONG meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) at the Talkatora Stadium on Saturday saw the delegates placing Rahul Gandhi in the centre-stage even as party chief Sonia Gandhi delivered a strong message to the leadership on the sidelines that they better be grateful to the party for the positions they occupy.
Sonia played the perfect doubles partner with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the India-US nuclear deal and the government’s performance in the social sector. If she praised Singh for delivering on the party manifesto and the UPA’s CMP, Singh credited Sonia and Rahul for their passionate support of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. Later, they patiently heard delegates on loopholes such as bureaucratic control and low daily wages under NREG.
• Sonia praised Manmohan Singh for delivering on the party manifesto and the UPA’s common minimum programme
• Senior Congress leaders criticised the “stubbornly uncooperative” BJP, their main rival in the Gujarat and Himachal polls
• There was no direct reference to Nandigram
Veteran leader Arjun Singh seemed to be voicing some skepticism when shortly after Rahul talked about building a meritocratic organisation he said no line of discrimination should be drawn in the party if the commitment of the worker is the same. He also referred to Rahul’s campaign in UP where the party got a drubbing, adding that it should be the Congress’s collective responsibility to see that this did not happen elsewhere.
Senior leaders including Sonia criticised the “stubbornly uncooperative” BJP, their main rival in the Gujarat and Himachal polls. “No words are strong enough to condemn their attacks on our PM and our party,” said Sonia.
But like the PM, she made no direct reference to Nandigram in her speech. The issue was dealt with in the omnibus political, economic and international resolution that termed the situation as “grave”, condemning the culture of violence and the cult of armed cadres.
“All this is the natural outcome of a system where the interests of party cadres are placed above the interests of the people and the law and order machinery is not allowed to function professionally,” it said.
The resolution also addressed another contentious issue involving the DMK, a key UPA ally whose chief M Karunanidhi recently condoled the death of a frontline leader of the LTTE. It said: “The LTTE, categorised internationally as a terrorist outfit, deliberately assassinated our beloved leader (Rajiv Gandhi) in a brutal manner. The sentiments of all Congressmen and women especially are bound to get hurt if the LTTE is eulogised in any manner.”
The top leadership letting the resolution speak, it was left to state level functionaries to vent their spleen against the Marxists. Equating Nandigram with Godhra, West Bengal’s Manas Bhunia urged Sonia to send an AICC delegation to the area. Shahnawaz from Kerala was apprehensive that the CPM would repeat Nandigram in Kerala: “But we in the Congress will not let that happen. Our party is the only hope for the minorities.”
Amid such Left-bashing, there was a leitmotif in the speeches of Sonia, Singh and Pranab Mukherjee. Pitching for the nuclear deal, they told party cadres to sell it as an energy security effort that would also fetch India the technologies denied to it for over three decades.
As much linked to the deal were repeated references to the Centre’s promise of implementing the Sachar report. Discerning observers found hard to miss the effort to counter the UNPA’s campaign to equate the deal with President George Bush’s anti-Muslim image.
In her concluding remarks, Sonia told the 2000-odd delegates that she and Rahul possessed no magic wand; that equal responsibility devolved on them: “Mere aur Rahul ke paas koi jadoo ki chari nahi hai. Jo kuch hona hai, aap ke sahyog se hona hai.”