Rahul Gets Down To Business By Renu Mittal
Are the expectations from Rahul Gandhi unreal both within the Congress and the media as they wait for a reshuffle within the party which they feel should have happened by February 6.
In Jaipur during his acceptance speech at the AICC meeting, Rahul Gandhi identified the problems facing the party. He said he did not know how the party won elections, he said there were no rules and regulations governing the party. There was a drastic acknowledgment of the ills which plague the 127-year-old party by a young leader who was disturbed by what he saw all around him.
But come Delhi and the return to the cold light of day, Rahul Gandhi showed his new found maturity when he clearly signalled there would be no drastic solutions to the problems within the party, that the solutions would be long term, pragmatic and not anarchic.
This came out in the four interactions Rahul Gandhi has had with the AICC office bearers since his return from Jaipur. Three of those interactions have been long and one short. For the first time an exercise was undertaken where he brought all the office bearers who are in charge of states, both general secretaries and secretaries together in one room to listen to their solutions on how to prepare the future road map of the party.
Amazing as it may sound, many of the office bearers had never met and were overheard asking their colleagues who some of the office bearers were. A secretary acknowledged it was for the first time they had all sat together to hear each other’s views as Rahul focused on telling them they were a family which had to bond together, trust each other and learn to work with each other in a transparent fashion.
A senior leader said Rahul Gandhi was also trying through this meeting to reassure the seniors that they were all not going to be sacked. There were jittery faces and uncertain leaders. After Jaipur, an impression had gained ground in the Congress that the senior leadership was going to be sacked and instead the organisation would be packed with youth Congress leaders who would be at the helm of affairs.
But during the three days of marathon meetings at the AICC, Rahul was at pains to explain to the assembled leaders that his model would focus on pragmatic solutions. He told them they were the heart and real treasure of the Congress and they were accountable and responsible for ensuring success coming the Congress way.
But the secretaries had their own problems with their seniors, and years of pent up feelings came pouring out as Rahul Gandhi listened and his interjections revealed he understood the problems being delivered to him.
AICC secretary from Rajasthan Sanjay Bapna set the ball rolling when he said it was very well to be accountable but many of them had no idea what their responsibility was. He said they had no clear cut responsibilities and many a time they discovered a decision regarding their state had been taken when they say it in the paper the next day.
Even a senior general secretary Shakeel Ahmed who looks after west Bengal and Jharkhand said there is an “invisible hand” which is visible and decisions are taken without consulting the general secretary in charge. The theme was this undermines the authority of the AICC office bearers in the states where chief ministers and others do not take them seriously.
Without using so many words, the message was conveyed to Rahul Gandhi that a coterie runs the affairs of the party and the others are merely propped up for show or to take the blame if things go wrong. Avtar Singh Badana, a four-term MP from Haryana, said he had been elected four times and made secretary four times but had not been given any work or responsibility. He wanted to know why he had been made secretary and added that for generations no one in his family was even a surpanch, but he had been elected four times with the chief minister working overtime to defeat him.
Chaudhary Birender Singh, general secretary in charge of Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh said that Rahul in Jaipur had spoken about creating a bank of 8 to 10 leaders who could be made chief ministers, but he said that chief ministers were never changed with the same person either continuing or being repeated when the party returned to power and this demoralised the rest of the leaders who felt they would never get a chance. He said chief ministers had become power centres and only those loyal to them were awarded and rewarded whereas workers loyal to other leaders were ignored and not adjusted in the power structure. He said they were also Congress workers, but they had no voice.
However, there were leaders, there were suggestions, complaints, with many office bearers feeling for the first time they had a voice which was being heard.
Unlike Rajiv Gandhi who tried to change the system very fast and who surrounded himself with apolitical people like Arun Singh and Arun Nehru and who eventually became liabilities harming his leadership, Rahul Gandhi while wanting change like his father appears to have understood that the existing structure cannot be destroyed overnight as the 127-year-old Congress party cannot adjust to change so swiftly.
For the moment, he appears to be focusing on changing attitudes, ensuring there is less factionalism and more bonding and trust. He wants to reward merit along with bringing about generational change but this would be slow and based on merit rather than change just for the sake of change.
The reshuffle whether at the AICC, the PCC, the district or the block level would be the nuts and bolts strategy of Rahul Gandhi as he prepares the Congress for the electoral battle ahead whether in the states or the Centre. Now that he appears to have taken over the running of the organisation from Sonia Gandhi leaving her free to focus on the government, Rahul is looking at preparing a team which would work in cohesion but has been careful that he gives everyone a chance to speak rather than take unilateral decisions.
He wants to carry forward the interactive exercise to the PCC, the district and block level, so that leaders and workers who have for years complained they have no voice can be heard by the leadership.
Not wanting to appear to be a bulldozer, Rahul Gandhi is keen to send the signal that he wants to learn from his seniors. At the India and the World sub group meeting at Jaipur, a number of youth Congress delegates took a tough and aggressive posture against Pakistan saying India must attack them and teach them a lesson. Upset by this, senior leader Karan Singh went and complained to Rahul Gandhi calling his youth brigade rowdy and lumpen elements, who had no idea what they they were talking about.
The next morning Rahul came to the sub group meeting and told the youngsters they must listen and learn from the seniors that foreign policy was serious business with many nuances and repercussions and they must not offer off the cuff solutions.
Rahul Gandhi is clearly not looking at making infrastructural changes within the Congress organisation, at least not in the immediate future. He is now more in the mode of putting together a cohesive, united, accountable and responsible unit which has a mixture of the old and the young, of people with creative ideas who can trust each other to end the factionalism in the Congress party. In a bid to inject a greater sense of purpose, Rahul Gandhi is keen that the voice of the worker must be heard as he is the backbone on which the party stands, wins or loses elections.
Seen in the pre-Jaipur days as a political tourist, Rahul Gandhi in the post-Jaipur era has earned the leadership of the Congress with the doubting masses accepting that he is a man on a serious mission who wants to rebuild the Congress without destroying it. He wants to bring reforms in the Congress organisation, something which his mother could not do and has shown he has a hands on policy, evident by his long and frequent visits to the AICC, an occurrence which has shaken the vested interest in the Congress party.
As Rahul works on building bridges between leaders and workers and making a connect within the organisation, those who have been watching him closely for the last one month feel Rahul Gandhi would return with a road map rebuilding the long road ahead as he processes the inputs received from party leaders and works on putting together a more democratic party structure which would mark the return of internal elections and greater transparency and accountability within the party.
While the media has only focused on a probable reshuffle and political pundits on winning elections, Rahul’s long term goals are to create cohesion in the organisation. The strategy is that electoral success would flow from a more responsive and responsible organisation as he begins work on fine-tuning the Congress, particularly in states where its workers have fled in search of greener pastures.