Battered by a resounding defeat in four states just weeks ago, the Congress today signalled it was, in its politics, reverting to its 2003 Shimla plank of secularism versus communalism, seeking the support of all “like-minded political and social forces” against a “polarising ideology”. And, on economics, it sought to distance itself from the Manmohan Singh government’s legacy and focus, instead, on the social welfare flagship schemes piloted by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council.
In fact, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s appeal to the Prime Minister at the AICC session here today to restore the cap on subsidized LPG cylinders per household per annum from 9 to 12 captured the ruling party’s indifference to the government’s renewed thrust on economic reforms, which, incidentally, did not figure in either Sonia’s or Rahul’s speeches or even in the AICC resolution.
Not surprisingly, Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily Friday evening promptly approved the proposal for the consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs. Sounding unusually combative, Rahul, in his 45-minute address, targeted BJP’s Prime
Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi without naming him. “(What) does it mean for us as a political party? It means responding to the immense demand for political and governmental reform in the revolutionary and dynamic way that only the Congress party is capable of doing…We do not respond by proposing over simplified non-solutions. We do not respond by subverting democratic institutions and blocking parliament sessions year after year, day after day. We do not respond by turning people against one another. We do not respond by lighting the fires of communal hatred. We do not respond by proposing either that the structures of democracy be handed over to one man or that they be viciously destroyed.”
He slammed Modi’s “Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India)” campaign saying the Congress is a “thought”, which has been there for three thousand years and it cannot be erased. “Whoever has tried to do it, has himself got destroyed,” said Rahul. “We live in a world where packaging and selling politics seems to replace the essence of real issues and real people. This is not just another turn in the history of India. It is not just another election to be fought and won or lost. This is a turning point in our nation’s journey,” he said adding that the Congress is ready for a tough challenge and “we will not stop till the battle is won”.
Admitting, in effect, that the Opposition was a better communicator, he said that it had marketed its wares well and made a veiled attack on AAP as also Modi. “Their marketing is very good. Chamak hai, gaana hai, naach hai, sub kuch hai (there is glitter, song, dance and everything). They are such people who will sell combs to the bald. More new people have come…ab naye log aaye hain, inhone haircut shuru kar di (new people have started haircuts on the bald). Don’t get misled by the talk of these people,” said Rahul evoking laughter from AICC delegates.
Repeating many of his themes from his unsuccessful Assembly campaign, Rahul underlined the UPA’s social-welfare schemes saying that the UPA government enacted the RTI “knowing fully well that it would place our own government under severe scrutiny”. In what appeared to be inspired by the Aam Aadmi Party, he said that 15 Lok Sabha tickets will be allotted through elections involving party workers.
Earlier, Sonia declared the 2014 elections as “a battle for the preservation of our age-old secular traditions, traditions of diverse communities living harmoniously in one composite national identity”. The AICC resolution echoed her stating, “The 2014 Lok Sabha elections will be a contest between opposing ideologies – one that seeks to divide and the other that seeks to unite India…The Congress party will continue to champion this liberal secular democratic vision of India and seeks the support of all like-minded political and social forces to come together in this pursuit at this critical juncture.”
Taking this as a cue, both young leaders and party veterans reserved their vitriolic best for Modi without mentioning his name. Pramod Tiwari said that the next election will be between “Gandhi and Godse” adding that he could not call the latter “even human”. Karnataka Youth Congress chief Rizwan Arshad said that the hands of the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate are “blood-stained”. Ashok Choudhury resolved to “kill this Kans” in 2014. For all the talk of change within, not much was visible.
After party veteran from Uttar Pradesh Pramod Tiwari set the tone demanding the “son from Bharat Mata (Sonia Gandhi)” for the party, young speakers carried on eulogising Rahul Gandhi’s success in bringing the youth into the political mainstream. Youth Congress president Rajiv Satav referred to “Rahulji” at least 12 times as he claimed, “If the youth of this country is with anybody, it is with Rahul Gandhi.” Crediting Rahul for bringing up “hundreds of young MPs and MLAs”, Satav declared, “In 2014, the government will be formed under Rahulji’s leadership.” If Rahul Gandhi was “a shining star in the firmament of politics” to former NSUI leader Ragini Nayar, he was “jawan dilon ki dharkan” to young party MP from Odisha Pradeep Majhi.
“Rahul Gandhi represents the vision of the youth. He has the vision for the future of the country,” said MP Priya Dutt. Congress MP from Haryana Ashok Tanwar credited the Congress vice-president for bringing up “thousands of MPs and MLAs from ordinary families”. Young Bihar Congress chief Ashok Choudhury claimed that never had the youth, Dalits and backwards got as much respect in the Congress as they did under Rahul’s leadership.
Sonia did strike a note of caution when she said that social-welfare programmes and growth had “whetted aspirations, especially in villages,” and given rise to a new middle class that is demanding “parivartan.”
“Often, it seems that there has been a drawback in fulfilling these aspirations and expectations. I appeal to you to adopt a soft approach,” she said. There was applause from AICC delegates when leaders from Kerala, AICC Secretary VD Satheesan and AC Jose, sought to target the UPA government.
Satheesan said it was “high time to assess the impact of liberalisation” demanding that the government must retain powers with regard to fixing the prices of petroleum products. “UPA II appeared to be faltering. We used to be pro-poor. Now, there is an impression that we are going towards the rich,” said Jose attributing the loss in Delhi elections to price rise and corruption.