The Congress’s resolve to strengthen the organisation and not be totally dependent on its coalition partners in the future was very much the focus at the All India Congress Committee session held over the weekend. Party chief Sonia Gandhi, in her spirited speech, underscored the need for the Congress to regain its lost political space and minced no words to tell her colleagues that the party was greater than any individual or faction and they should abide by this thumb rule.
Significantly, this reiteration of the need for the party to recapture its political space coincided with the widespread endorsement of Rahul Gandhi after he assumed charge as general secretary. The two developments essentially mean that to make Rahul Gandhi fully effective in national affairs, the party has to increase its tally both in Parliament and in the states. Rahul’s real endorsement as the party’s new leader can happen only once the Congress is more dependent on its own strengths rather than that of coalition partners.
However, the AICC session did not seem to have any clear-cut objective. It looked less like a session and more like a meeting. While all welcomed Rahul Gandhi’s induction, the general feeling was that senior leaders should have been made to speak on record at a greater length about their whole-hearted endorsement for the young leader. True, the resolution conveyed the consensus of the house. But given that many still have unrealised ambitions, it may have been more productive to get top leaders to spell out their support.
Many top leaders, it seemed, were uneasy with Rahul’s projection as it threatened their own equations. The insecurity of these leaders was evident in the manner in which some of them tried to give a different meaning to what the young leader had stated. Arjun Singh’s observations were as critical as they were controversial. Pranab Mukherjee while making his opening remarks on the political resolution before Rahul spoke, appeared to be keen on identifying the Congress with only one community. This was reflected in his references to the Tehelka exposé by name and to Mughal sculptures without which Indian art would be “incomplete”. These were uncalled for, given that the Gujarat elections are round the corner. Little purpose is served by such wise observations.
Some Congress leaders who spoke after him, Sushil Kumar Shinde an exception, also appeared to be more keen on uniting the divided BJP and chose to spare the CPI(M). Shinde spoke positively and highlighted Rahul’s importance to the party. It was Rahul Gandhi who reiterated the Congress’s ideology and policy when he said that he saw every Indian as an Indian first, and not as a member of any caste, community, region or religion. His short and sensible speech reflected on how the Congress should shape itself to address the erosion of Indian politics after the Mandalisation and Ram temple issues have sought to divide the society. The speech was a continuation of what he had stated at the Hyderabad plenary last year in January. His sister Priyanka had come all the way to hear him. She sat in a special room at the venue to watch the proceedings.
In fact, only three speeches had any impact on the delegates Sonia Gandhi’s candid and frank resolve, the Prime Minister’s sincere and honest approach and the vision of new India by Rahul Gandhi. So, it was not surprising that the other leaders did not know what to make of the emerging power equations. So they chose to either give some spin to their speeches or appeared insecure on what the future holds for them, even though there is no occasion for this.
The Congress has always promoted the youth more than any other party. Also on November 17 but in 1976, Indira Gandhi in her address to the Youth Congress session alongside the AICC meet in Guwahati had spoken about the youth stealing the thunder. Leaders of the Youth Congress at the time are, today, senior ministers Vyalar Ravi, Ambika Soni, Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, Tarun Gogoi, Anand Sharma, Pawan Bansal, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ashok Gehlot among others. Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister at 40. Indira Gandhi headed the Congress in her late 30s as did Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad, who became party presidents at a young age. The same could hold good for the youth brigade headed by Rahul Gandhi. The baton must pass from one generation to the other.
Going by the feedback, the general secretaries looking after the session could have done some homework to make the session more meaningful. Political exercises should be conducted to bring in fresh ideas and provide focus to the party’s objectives. The stand-off with the Left on the nuclear deal could lead to a mid-term poll, for which the Congress has to be prepared and all its leaders need to look at the developments positively and not through the prism of their narrow interests.
The session had three messages, which could have been sharper had some more homework been done on the other leaders’ speeches. First, the Congress will try to recapture its political space. Second, Rahul Gandhi will be the new upcoming star and third, both Ms Gandhi and Rahul endorse the leadership of Manmohan Singh and would support him totally on any stand he takes. Congressmen have to understand this message once and for all. Between us.