‘Laptop won’t get you votes, Rahulji,’ a senior Congress functionary told Rahul Gandhi during the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2007. But he wasn’t going to cave in to the Old Guard. All the 21 newly appointed officer-bearers of the Indian Youth Congress got a laptop each last month, with an instruction that communication down to the level of district presidents of the organisation will have to be conducted through email.
Rahul himself is an e-communicator, rarely given to long public speeches or phone calls. His BlackBerry is a constant companion.
Gandhi identified two crucial problems in the functioning of the Congress system after he took charge of the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and the National Students Union (NSUI).
One, they are ‘closed’: nobody can enter the system without someone’s patronage. He wanted to throw them ‘open’ through a national talent search. “We have conducted the search in 17 states and it has opened the doors of politics to people without patronage,” says Congress secretary Jitendra Singh.
The second problem was that appointments were not being made according to merit. Senior Congress leaders would apportion posts in organisations and distribute them to their protégées. Gandhi decided to shake things up. He now interviews a shortlist of eligible candidates and makes a selection.
In Punjab, the IYC conducted internal elections with a former chief election commissioner hired as a consultant to oversee it. Around 96,000 people enrolled as IYC members and voted to elect their leaders. In the student wing, the same exercise was done in Uttarakhand.
Sixteen months into his current job, Rahul is helped in his ‘Mission Shakedown’ by two key aides: Kanishka Singh and Sachind Rao. There are separate task forces for specific issues such as training, publicity and membership.
There is a flipside to this story. Rahul’s outspokenness about his likes and dislikes makes some old hands squirm. With transperancy, they say, he’s bringing in more rigidity.
In keeping with this ‘new’ working philosophy, Rahul has sought out young people for Lok Sabha election candidates later this year. It’s too early to say whether the strategy will work. But as far as casting the net further and wider is concerned, Rahul and his team have a plan.