Don’t leave the task to student wings alone, says the new Congress vice-president

The Congress must not leave the task of engaging youth to its student wings, the Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India, alone, Rahul Gandhi told party functionaries at his first meeting with them on Wednesday after he took over as vice-president three days ago: it is something that must be the priority of the main party, he stressed.

Indeed, the urgent need to address the aspirations of the youth was underscored at the recent chintan shivir in Jaipur. “… the Congress recognises there is a new aspiration for advancement among the people, especially among the youth and the middle class,” the section on Political Challenges in the Jaipur Declaration said. “The Congress pledges to speak for both the young middle class India and the young deprived India.” The party, it continued, “will be responsive to the new aspirations of the youth and will offer credible policies and programmes, especially job creating programmes.”

On Wednesday evening, in an informal interaction with the Congress’ central office-bearers, members of the organising committee for the Jaipur chintan shivir, and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Mr. Gandhi stressed that in the coming days he hoped to have discussions with each of them, individually, or in groups, party sources said. He said most of those who were gathered in the committee room at the AICC headquarters at 24 Akbar Road here had more political experience than him and he hoped to learn from them — he was still on a learning curve.

Mr. Gandhi also wanted to know what feedback they had got from the chintan shivir: to this, both Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ms. Dikshit stressed the need to take the recommendations of the Jaipur Declaration forward.

If Mr Gandhi’s first informal interaction with party functionaries received a thumbs up from them, journalists whom he met immediately after were rather disappointed as he refused to take any questions, especially as they had been waiting for an hour, thanks to the demands of the security arrangements made for him. Mr. Gandhi even sidestepped a query whether he would work to ensure that the recommendations of the Verma Committee that was constituted in the wake of the national outrage over the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi are implemented, saying it was his first day in office.

Instead, he chose to deliver a homily on the need to practise positive politics. “The Congress,” he said, “is the best instrument to change things, to bring youngsters into politics.” The political environment was negative as it was full of acrimonious discussions. “I want to try and reduce that,” he said, adding “I don’t want to get into negative politics.” There were many positive things happening in the country, and many youngsters doing good things — the focus should be on that.

Mr. Gandhi may be the formal number two in the party, but the party managers evidently still want to use the tight security ring around him to choreograph his appearances and comments, just as they did when Sonia Gandhi first took over as party president.

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