A large number of Congress leaders from the States opened up before Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during his first interaction with them after taking over the reins for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Mr. Gandhi met leaders of each State for about 30 minutes and heard the leaders speak about lack of coordination and access at various levels. Some leaders said adequate respect was not given to the All India Congress Committee office-bearers and members, while others pointed out how the AICC leaders have no time for State leaders and workers.

A key complaint also pertained to how restructuring of the Youth Congress, undertaken a few years ago under the leadership of Mr. Gandhi himself, had proved to be counterproductive as it has spawned new resourceful leaders who are only interested in tickets and unwilling to work for the party units.

Leaders from Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, were among the most vocal. While BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has put his trusted lieutenant Amit Shah in-charge of the crucial State, Congress leaders said the party was yet to give adequate thought to problems plaguing it in U.P.

A Pradesh Congress Committee leader Anoop Pandey urged Mr. Gandhi to meet the workers regularly. Stating that workers and local leaders often struggled to even get an audience with Ministers and AICC members, he demanded that the office bearers be instructed to interact with the foot soldiers and address their concerns and grievances.

AICC leader Ammar Rizvi chose to speak about how people who come from other parties are often given prominence. He said the senior party workers feel humiliated when they are treated at par with the newcomers. It is time due respect is given to the old timers.

Dr. Rizvi also spoke about AICC leaders being ignored by the Ministers. He said there should be regular discussions between the AICC leaders and the Ministers so that the voice of the people is able to reach the corridors of power.

A Mahila Congress leader from Baghpat demanded that the party ensure that Mr. Gandhi’s announcement of giving greater representation to women be actually implemented. Mr. Gandhi had said he wanted women in more party position and to occupy 50 per cent of all party chief ministers to be women.

In his response, Mr. Gandhi said Congress was a “soch” (idea) and it was time that its message was propagated far and wide. “We must fight with unity, focusing on the strengths of our party and the good work we have done over the last 10 years,” he said.

Mr. Gandhi said the party would be strengthened at the booth, block and district levels ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and necessary directions would be issued to the presidents of these units in this regard.

At the AICC session, Mr. Gandhi had also spoken about how on an experimental basis the candidates for 15 seats would be chosen on the basis of the suggestions of the block, district and state units. Some party leaders were quick to point out that a similar exercise of taking views of district and block units was undertaken in Delhi for the Assembly polls last year but failed as all the recommendations of the units were junked.

Ranjiv Srivastava, a PCC delegate from Balia, said the manner of selection of Youth Congress leaders was also flawed as those with resources at their disposal are using this route to stake claim to party tickets. “Rather than getting into the party to support the district or State units or the candidates, they are becoming opponents of the established structure.”

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