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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt
Memories of the Congress bash
January 27, 2006
A few days after the Congress jamboree, it is clear that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S R Reddy is relieved that the 82nd Congress plenary session went off without security hassles.
An 18,000-plus police force was deployed round the clock, mainly because of the presence of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Most Congressmen thought Hyderabad was the wrong venue for such a mega-event because of the very real Naxalite threat. Only recently, Two bombs, which could be triggered by mobile phones, had been found in Hyderabad.
Then there's the omnipresent fear of Pakistan's dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence.
Once you crossed the security hurdle, what struck you was that Rajiv Nagar was spacious, yes, but also too large to connect different groups and sections of India's grand old party.
Ordinary Congressmen were strictly not allowed to mix with their leaders and ministers.
Most leaders delivered routine, boring speeches. Many Congressmen felt Jyotiraditya Scindia's speech was one of the few good ones. And an equal number of party workers felt the Scindia scion's speech was better than Rahul Gandhi's.
"It would have been better if such a grand show was arranged right in the heart of Lucknow or Kerala or Tamil Nadu where elections are expected soon. In Andhra Pradesh elections are nowhere in sight. Then why waste so much money here," asked Jawed khan, who had come all the way from Bihar.
He said it proved that "our party leaders don't want to face the challenge of elections. Are they so sure of losing in those states [where elections are due]?"
The only bit of drama in the otherwise lacklustre plenary was Rahul Gandhi's 'to be or not be' act which followed his speech.
But hardcore Congressmen, who are eager for a piece of the power pie now in the hands of Team Manmohan, found Rahul's speech too sanitised.
A fourth generation Congressman -- who is an agriculturist and a landlord and a "devout Congressman" whose uncle had been rewarded a gas agency by Indira Gandhi -- had this to say about Rahul.
"Rahul's speech lacked fire. I don't think he can take on [Gujarat chief minister] Narendra Modi! He cannot take Modi on with his soft ideas, which have no meaning. His young gang of MPs are merely rich men's sons who are joining politics to enhance their businesses," the veteran fumed.
"There are too many crocodiles in politics. They will devour Rahul in a few years. He didn't deliver the goods expected of him. Who were his speechwriters? They should be sacked. His speech sounded weak without any mention of Indian farmers.
"He will have to understand what the Indian farmers want. I am a very unhappy Congressman today. I came with high expectations; now I am worried about my political future."
A little more prodding had him fuming further: "I think Rahul is honest but he doesn't look like a man who can lead from the front. I find him arrogant too. In India if you visit any home and refuse to have tea, the host considers it an insult. Similarly, when all of us wanted him to speak, this powerful and rich man refused. I think he is a stubborn son of Sonia Gandhi. I have no idea what is he learning in Amethi. Is he not meeting farmers there?"
Rahul Gandhi was the cynosure of all conversation. Many thought he is being pushed by his mother Sonia and her political managers onto the political centrestage.
"He should sacrifice his love and accept the leadership of the Congress party," opined a Congressman from West Bengal.
At the end of the session, it was impossible to find an ordinary Congressman who could speak two lines on the direction he got from either Rahul or Sonia Gandhi: No new slogans; no new political thinking.
And Rahul's debut speech sent confusing signals. His call to focus on villages and the people was swallowed with large helpings of cynicism.
"We feel Rahul has been pushed into politics but his heart is not in it yet," was the take of a worker from Visakhapatnam.
"We are educated people voting for the Congress. For us, the most uninspiring are the people who sit with PM Singh and Sonia Gandhi on the dais. One of them is a defaulter of Syndicate bank. Most of them have lost elections. They are helping Soniaji to formulate strategy with a defeatist mentality. How can the Congress ever win? If I am sitting today for two full days on this side of the dais it is because of PM Singh's credibility. Otherwise today's Congress has nothing to be proud about," he added.
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