Rahul Gandhis pitch for sweeping change has same old feel

Written by Express news service | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 18 2014, 07:03am hrs
Rahul GandhiRahul Gandhi, in his 45-minute address, said the Congress is ready for the tough challenge ahead
Battered by a resounding defeat in four states just weeks ago, the Congress on Friday signalled it was reverting to its 2003 Shimla political 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 governments legacy in terms of economic reforms and focus, instead, on the rights-based largesse through flagship schemes piloted by the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council.

In fact, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhis appeal to the Prime Minister at the AICC session on Friday to restore the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders per household per annum from 9 to 12 captured the ruling partys indifference to the governments renewed thrust on economic reforms, which, incidentally, did not figure in either Sonias or Rahul Gandhis speeches or even in the AICC resolution.

Sounding unusually combative, Rahul Gandhi, in his 45-minute address, said the Congress is ready for the tough challenge ahead and we will not stop till the battle is won.

Calling the Lok Sabha elections a turning point in our nations journey, the younger Gandhi, without naming the BJPs prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, slammed his Congress-mukt Bharat (Congress-free India) campaign, saying the Congress was a thought which cannot be erased. And that whoever has tried to do it, has himself got destroyed.

Repeating many of his themes from his speeches during the Assembly elections where his party lost, Gandhi urged the party not to lose courage but to walk into battle with the head held high. He underlined the UPAs social-welfare schemes and called for structural reforms within the party: Tickets to only those who have Congress in their blood, not those who hop from party to party. In an echo of the Aam Aadmi Party, he said 15 Lok Sabha tickets will be allocated based on feedback from local units.

Clearly meaning Modi, he said: Democracy is not rule by dictates, not rule by one man but by empowered elected representatives. He accused the BJP of disrupting Parliament and preventing the government from enacting crucial laws.

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 the AAP as well. They are good at selling combs to the bald. Some new people have come, who have already started giving haircuts, he said evoking laughter all around.

He said the question now was not whether the party should change but when and how. The change around us is unstoppable, he said, adding the Congress is already responding to the increasing demand for change. Unlike others, we do not respond by complaining but solving issues. Unlike others, we do not respond by blocking Parliament day after day, year after year. Unlike others, we do not respond by turning people against people and by lighting fires of communal hatred. We do not respond by handing over the structure of democracy to one person, said Gandhi. Congress responds by democracy.

Earlier, Sonia Gandhi 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, 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 BJPs prime ministerial candidate are bloodstained. 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 Gandhis 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 Rahul Gandhi. Crediting Gandhi for bringing up hundreds of young MPs and MLAs, Satav declared, In 2014, the government will be formed under Rahuljis 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 Orissa 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 Rahuls leadership.

Earlier, Sonia Gandhi 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.

Satheessan 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.