Beginning a two-day exercise to assess the mood of the Congress cadres in Tamil Nadu, All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi interacted with grassroots-level leaders of the party on Wednesday in Chennai, Villupuram and Madurai.
“How many of you are happy with the politics in Tamil Nadu?” he asked a gathering in Chennai of elected office-bearers of the Youth Congress from the panchayat, Assembly and parliamentary constituency levels. On seeing a few hands go up, he tossed the next question: “How many of you are unhappy with the politics in Tamil Nadu?” This time, a number of hands shot up. “I just wanted to check,” Mr. Gandhi said.
Mr. Gandhi promised the maximum number of seats possible for Youth Congress representatives at the next Assembly election. “Though I will not be able to specify the percentage of seats, my heart goes out to say that you will get the maximum number of seats. At the same time, you should not forget that there are elderly Congressmen also.”
Mr. Gandhi, who arrived here from New Delhi at about 10.30 a.m., reached the venue of the meeting at Vanagaram, a suburb, by helicopter. He spoke for about 15 minutes and then threw the stage open for questions.
Urging the office-bearers to concentrate on the growth of the party at the panchayat level, he said the Communists in Kerala and the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu could do well at the hustings because their party was strong at the panchayat level.
He said that the Youth Congress all over the country did not give much importance to panchayat leaders. “For me, the most important level is the panchayat and if you cannot win at that level you cannot be the type of leader that the Youth Congress needs in the future.”
“The real challenge for the Youth Congress is panchayat elections. I want Youth Congressmen to win as many seats as possible in the panchayat elections to be conducted during October next.”
Relationship with Tamil Nadu
Mr. Gandhi asserted that it was not enough to keep the doors open for youngsters. “You should respect their views and provide for their future.” Describing his family's relationship with Tamil Nadu as “very old and close,” he said: “If the people of Tamil Nadu decide to do something, they do it.”
“The future leadership of the State is going to come from the Youth Congress,” he said. But, he added, “the battle for Tamil Nadu is not going to be easy. Building the Congress party which has been out of power for 40 years is going to take time.”
He advised the partymen to be ready to “work systematically” to bring the Congress back to power in the State. He held similar meetings in Villupuram and Madurai too. In Villupuram, he said he wished for the political resurgence of Dalits. Through conscious efforts, Dalits who are denied due share in governance can change the situation. Dalits should strengthen the Congress at the grassroots level, he said.
“Win local body polls”
Interacting with Youth Congress functionaries at a meeting in Madurai, Mr. Gandhi exhorted the volunteers to win in the next panchayat elections. “You win [a] majority and see what happens,” he said. Mr. Gandhi said that at present it was not in a position to play the role of a major partner in alliance “because you are not strong.”
He asked the party workers to forget what had happened in the last 40 years when either of the two Dravidian parties ruled the State. The Congress would regain power in future, he predicted.