Newly-crowned Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday spoke of his vision for the party, which he said was now his “life”, saying there would be changes but none that were hasty or abrupt.
The party needs to change the way it selects candidates and develop new leadership at all levels, he said, but added a word of caution: “We cannot afford abrupt changes. Changes will be done, but gradually and smoothly.”
He also stated his resolve to keep the old guard on his side, and learn from their experience. “I am no longer the leader of the youth alone. I belong to everyone equally — the youth and the seniors, the Youth Congress, NSUI and Mahila Congress.”
“Changes will be thought-through and with everyone on board… I will not act as a lawyer but as a judge,” he said, adding: “The Congress party is now my life.”
Rahul’s speech lasted 45 minutes, possibly one of his longest, and was a far cry from his faltering first at the All India Congress Committee in 2007, when he spoke about the tricolour being his religion. Not known to be a great orator, his interventions in Parliament, too, have been rare. But this time was different as the 42-year-old combined spontaneity, wit and candour.
The standing ovation at the end wasn’t entirely the characteristic sycophancy of Congressmen.
"Seeing the anarchic method of our functioning, our election victories amuse me," he said. "I don’t know how we manage to fight elections and win."
The speech covered two topics — governance and party politics.
Calling the Congress the "world's biggest family", Rahul said the time was ripe for change. He also didn't shy away from admitting the party had failed - and badly - in some areas.
One such failure, he said, was in developing leadership. The challenge, he added, was to have "40-50 leaders who can lead India and 7-10 leaders in each state who can be chief ministers".
He was also scathing about the candidate selection process. "We airdrop candidates into constituencies without consulting local leaders. People from other parties easily cross over into the Congress and get tickets. Our own people contest against official candidates and get away with it. All this cannot go on."
Similarly, in his critique on governance, he spoke of a "system" that "shut out the talented and promoted mediocrity", but added that he was optimistic of changing this.
"The Congress has been historically successful because we gave a voice to the people. A billion Indians are seeking a voice today - to have a bigger say in politics and governance," he said, crediting government initiatives such as Aadhaar, direct cash transfers, panchayati raj and women's self-help groups for this connect with the masses.
He also called for scrapping "outdated rules and irrational red tape" to further this process.