The Congress is “ready, prepared and confident” of winning the coming Lok Sabha elections. With these words Sonia Gandhi, son Rahul by her side, flagged off the party’s campaign on Sunday at Ramlila Maidan.
But, she said, the party still needed to get a few things right: it had to remain united, be careful of party hoppers, and do away with “patronage and quota system when distributing election tickets”.
Sonia Gandhi was addressing a Congress convention of nearly 13,000 party workers from all over the country — block and district presidents, men and women who make the party’s mammoth poll machine. The party’s top leaders such as foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee home minister P. Chidambaram and others took turns to address the workers.
“Whenever we lost (elections) it was not because of our opponents, but because of infighting,’’ Sonia said.
And she closed her speech with this: “We should be careful about the “‘aya ram gaya rams’... We also agree with your complaints (delegates). Patronage or quota system must not have a role to play in selecting party candidates.”
Some of the grassroot delegates who spoke at the conclave had questioned the airdropping of candidates by the central leadership, the prevalence of the quota system and patronage in ticket distribution.
“Circuit house and aerodrome leaders should be kept away,” said Ravindra Kale, a block president from Maharashtra, referring to leaders who name candidates and issue orders during whistle-stop tours. “Only people close to leaders in the Congress get party tickets,” said Rajesh Tiwari from Chhattisgarh, adding, “and not those who worked for the party.”
Several delegates strongly advised the leadership against alliances that are so critical to Congress’s survival in power and its return. Sonia answered that concern too.
She said alliances and seat adjustments were necessary but they should not come in the way of strengthening the party organization. She also made it clear the party would once again be going with the “aam aadmi” (common man) as in the 2004 slogan, when its slogan “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ka saath” got the party to power, with its allies.
In her 30-minute address, she attacked the BJP’s divisive agenda and claimed that the Congress was the only party, which believes that communal harmony and economic development were two sides of the same coin.
The party took a pledge – called Sankalp 2009 -- at the conclave: “It is our firm belief that India's present and its future can be secured and bright only by following the path of democracy, secularism, equality and justice...It is unfortunate that there are certain forces and elements which seek to undermine these fundamental human values and impede the development process of our country. We resolve to intensify our struggle against such forces.”