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Newfound bustle losing steam?

Smita Gupta
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Rahul is yet to announce changes in team or set out vision of India

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi

For three days (February 1, 2 and 4), the Congress’ central headquarters here was out of bounds to outsiders as the key office-bearers bared their hearts to the newly appointed vice-president Rahul Gandhi in closed-door sessions. By all accounts, it was a cathartic experience, as the party provides few opportunities for even functionaries to openly talk about the problems they face. So, there was open criticism of high-handed Chief Ministers, Central ministers and general secretaries, the skewed system of distributing ticket in which recent entrants were privileged over loyal party workers and the general lack of accountability.

Mr. Gandhi, on his part, promised to set up a structure in which authority and responsibilities would be defined so that the performance of each individual is judged — and rewarded or punished. But, simultaneously, he hoped that his party colleagues would see the Congress as a family – and themselves as its heart — and ensure the “emotional bonding” needed to take the party forward. The new vice-president said he would hold the same sort of interactive sessions with functionaries at the block, district and State level: a general secretary said this process might be fast-forwarded through a series of videoconferences.

What Mr. Gandhi, however, did not do — even though he was urged to do so — was announce changes in the team of central office-bearers, leaving the incumbents in a state of uncertainty; nor did he set out his vision of India, his views on key issues, or what he hoped to achieve. Indeed, on January 23, three days after the conclusion of the chintan shivir and AICC session in Jaipur, when he visited the AICC headquarters and met journalists, he even dodged a simple question whether the party would ensure that the government implements the Verma Committee recommendations on how to tackle crimes against women. If Mr. Gandhi is to lead the party, be its prime ministerial candidate, he has to let the voting public in on his views.

Indeed, Mr. Gandhi appears frittering away the momentum he got on January 20 at the AICC session in which his emotional speech struck a chord with the party. It took the new vice-president 12 days to hold his first formal meeting, and with that done, he appears not to be in a hurry to take the next step. If it was expected that with his elevation to the formal number two slot, his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, would be able to take a back seat, that has not yet happened. General secretaries, for instance, are still reporting to Ms. Gandhi: as a senior functionary said, “There is still no new circular to say that we now should report to Rahulji, or that we should send him copies of all that we send to Soniaji. She is still the supreme authority in the party — and will continue to be so.”

Indeed, with the general elections less than 16 months away, there appears to be some disquiet that Mr. Gandhi is taking so much time to effect the transition — if there is to be one at all. Most senior leaders still believe that the son cannot yet match the mother’s political acumen — and say she will remain the final arbiter, even if Mr. Gandhi begins to play a bigger role in decision-making as his elevation would suggest.



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