Asks State chiefs to get cracking on revitalising organisation

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi firmly endorsed the Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership on Saturday, commending him for his handling of the economy, and stressing that he would complete his term.

The unequivocal praise of the Prime Minister came after Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna made a strong pitch for Mr. Gandhi to be declared the party’s prime ministerial candidate while speaking at the two-day meeting of Congress State chiefs and CLP leaders.

An irate Mr. Gandhi, party sources said, ticked off Mr Bahuguna: “I do not want to hear such a thing again,” he said, reminding the Uttarakhand Chief Minister that Dr. Singh was already at the helm, and that the problems the party was currently facing had nothing to do with the Prime Minister, and everything to do with the poor state of the organisation — something that needed to be addressed first.

The official party line has been that Dr. Singh is the Prime Minister, and so there is no need to announce the party’s candidate for the job in 2014, as that decision will be taken at a later stage.

Indeed, party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi dismissing the issue raised by the Uttarakhand CM, reiterated this position, stressing, “This is an unnecessary controversy. We have made it clear again and again that Mr. Rahul Gandhi is the leader of the party for the future. Right now there is no question as Dr. Manmohan Singh is the Prime Minister and ... he will be in the post till 2014.... Let the elections come, let us see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Kashmir PCC chief Saifuddin Soz, referring to the recent execution of Mohammad Afzal Guru, the prime accused in the terrorist attack on Parliament on 2001, complained that the central party had not advised the State unit on how to respond to questions on the episode that has caused widespread anger in the Kashmir valley. Were they supposed to endorse what Chief Minister Omar Abdullah – with whose party the Congress is in alliance --had said? Were they to agree with the Prime Minister’s criticism of the insensitive way the matter was handled, without even informing the family members? Or were they just expected to keep silent, taking the brunt of the people’s anger? Congress sources said that Mr. Gandhi agreed that State units of the party should be given a line that they could adopt.

At the end of the meeting, where differences within State units, unhappiness with allies, and skewed ticket distribution came to the fore, Mr. Gandhi told State Congress chiefs that they must spend at least 10 days every month visiting district and block units to hear grievances and strengthen the party organisation. Within two months, all district Congress Committees and Block Congress Committees must be constituted, he said, adding that he would henceforth meet all the PCC and the CLP chiefs in the national capital once every three months: they must carry out a similar exercise with DCC presidents in their States. He would also stay in touch with State chiefs through e-mail and telephone to ensure that there was “no communication gap.” Central Ministers, he said, would be asked visit the PCC offices, when they visited State capitals. Rewards would be linked to performance, he stressed, and tickets given only after candidates fulfilled set criteria.

Referring to the recent assembly elections in Punjab, Mr. Gandhi acknowledged that the party’s failure could also be traced to the fact that a few families cornered the tickets. Party sources added that he also ribbed state CLP leader Sunil Jakhar for assuring him that the Congress would win the elections.

The PCC chiefs and the CLP leaders from States where the Congress is in alliance with another party demanded clarity on such relationships, expressing the view that regional parties were making inroads into the Congress space. West Bengal PCC chief Pradeep Bhattacharya made a case for the Congress going it alone in West Bengal, remaining equidistant from both the Trinamool Congress and the CPI. “We should contest the upcoming panchayat polls in the State alone,” he said, pointing out, “Our alliance with Trinamool Congress has damaged us while Mamata Banerjee's party has benefited by aligning with us.” He also alleged that there was “complete lawlessness in West Bengal and the Congress workers were being prosecuted”. Mr Gandhi, responding to this, said he should strengthen the organisation in the State and agreed to have a one-on-one discussion on the issue.

Uttar Pradesh CLP leader Pradeep Mathur said the Congress needed to examine the price the party pays when it forges alliances.

Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh chief Kantilal Bhuria, asked about his complaints against Union Ministers. Kamal Nath and Jyotiradiya Scindia, who hail from the State, told journalists, “I asked Rahul Gandhi to advise them to attend the meeting of the Coordination Committee. Ministers should attend the meeting of the Coordination Committee. Ministers should take out time for the organisation. Rahul ji said that any Minister visiting the State must inform the PCC.” A coordination committee of Congress has been constituted for the state Assembly polls scheduled this year.

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