In his first major political tour after the party debacle in Uttar Pradesh,Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi on Friday heard party leaders from across Maharashtra expressing fears about the growing aggressiveness of ally Nationalist Congress Party and called for focussed efforts to strengthen the party base in the state.
He promised to tour the state more frequently,an indication he is keen on paying personal attention to the party fortunes in one of the largest states it still controls.
He made no direct comment on the NCP even when taluka level leaders expressed dismay at the apparent betrayal by the coalition partner,during the recent Zilla Parishad president polls in which it had aligned with Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party. Rahul,however,make a reference to serious infighting within the Congress. He said,Only the Congress can defeat itself, he told a gathering of over 1,000 elected representatives from Panchayat Samitis,Zilla Parishads,municipalities besides legislators and a few Parliamentarians. He called for better coordination between the party and the government. In another reference to the coalition partner,he reportedly told elected representatives,In no region should we be lax in building our own base.
He reportedly promised student union leaders in a morning meeting at a suburban auditorium that a constituency wise study of the partys weak areas would be done. Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Manikrao Thakre and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,however,denied this was a launch of the partys mission 2014.
Elections are still two years away, Thakre said at a press conference later,adding that Rahul had expressed his desire to initiate a dialogue with block and taluka leaders purely to hear their opinions on party building. Rahul held four separate meetings,first with NSUI and the Indian Youth Congress,then with nearly 500 taluka and block presidents from across the state,and a smaller meeting with office-bearers of the MPCC. Finally,he addressed over 1,000 elected representatives.
At their first-ever direct interaction with a member of the partys top leadership,the taluka and block unit presidents complained candidly about inaccessible ministers,lack of direction in countering an aggressive NCP,the poor status of their own party in decision-making and ticket allocation and the long delay in making appointments to state-run boards and corporations. When senior leaders described the taluka and block units as the partys backbone,he reportedly asked the lower rung leaders what powers they thought they had. A large number gestured with hands that they had no powers at all, said a party member present at the meeting at MPCC headquarters in Dadar. Rahul reportedly said the cause of their frustration is lack of a system to recognise meritorious leaders and promised such a system soon.
He posed for photographs and shared a meal with local leaders,after a tour of Tilak Bhavan building. He looked at MPCC literature published over the last few years and accepted a book on Maratha warrior king Shivaji gifted by MPCC General Secretary Sanjay Dutt.
NSUI leader Sadaf Aboli said Rahul asked youth leaders to fathom reasons for the drift in the partys mass base and exhorted more young leaders to remain committed to politics.
Chief Minister Chavan said Rahul would on Saturday undertake a tour of worst-hit talukas in Satara district that are facing a drought-like situation.
He will visit some areas where farm ponds with plastic sheets used to stop loss of water and drip irrigation systems have enabled farmers to save pomegranate orchards, said Chavan. He will also speak to some farmers in the region.