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Home > India > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi

Rahul's mantra for Congress' revival. Any buyers?

March 11, 2008

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"India is a democratic country, but there is practically no internal democracy in any party, be it the Congress, BJP or any other..." said Rahul Gandhi [Images], general secretary of Youth Congress and in-charge of National Students Union of India, at the end of his visit to Orissa.

Importantly, Rahul said he did not favour the 'high command' system in his party, headed by his mother Sonia Gandhi [Images].
Undoubtedly the Congress would have hounded any other partyman for such a brutally honest and politically-incorrect statement. But when Rahul Gandhi -- the rising force of Congress party -- speaks, you are forced to listen.

Already more than 40 Congress parliamentarians have signed a letter welcoming Rahul's radical statement. On a query about why he spoke just about a party-related issue when other grave national issues like Naxalism, caste and Kashmir existed, Rahul, in a smart rebuff, asked, "Do you know how you become a member of any political party?"

Rahul, who looks less shy and friendlier than before, does not think his vision for the nation is limited to make radical changes in his old, rusting party. For him, when he talks about democracy within political parties he is talking of the fundamental issue of national importance.

Since decades, one needed to pay fee of a rupee to become a primary member of the Congress and to become an active member one needed to get 25 new primary members. However, on Rahul's recommendation the two categories have been dispensed with and now a person can become an active member by paying 3 rupees.

According to Rahul, the youth of India does not have a say in the existing power structure. He wants youngsters to join his party and raise national issues from the party forum.

It will surprise many but Rahul thinks that a person is unable to keep his own 'identity' when he joins a political party in India. The Congress lawmaker insists that he wants an election for all party posts so that people with merits can get into the power structure.

This is an intriguing argument coming from a member of the Gandhi family. Also, it mirrors his family's weakness. But, Rahul is unfazed of this dichotomy.

"Anyone interested in entering politics does not know how to join a party," he observed in Orissa, adding, "Why is it that at every single meeting I attended during my tour of the state, people asked me the same question -- how should one join politics?"

Rahul thinks that right now he is not the one who will be talking about the country's politics. Rather, he wants a secured quota for Indian youth in the country's political power structure.

He wants the overhaul to begin from the block level in villages and towns and in the state capitals where political party's office bearers are always nominated by the high command sitting in the state capitals and in New Delhi. He is against the system and wants elections to be held for the party's important posts.

Rahul's statements in Orissa do not seem to be politically na�ve or irrelevant. Next election will see a senior citizen like L K Advani, 80, leading the Opposition front but the Congress scion's focussed appeal for the Indian youth will give him an advantage.

Also, in view of the over-published and never-seen-before brutal competition between Democratic candidates -- Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- for the presidential polls in United States, one may be attracted to Rahul's idea.

The Left parties and Bharatiya Janata Party feel otherwise. They took umbrage at Rahul's remarks in Orissa. These parties are not only cadre-based but also have an internal churning process, which is inadequate and defective yet works.

Also, in public eye, their leaders are not as 'powerful' as his mother Sonia or some regional party chiefs like Karunanidhi (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) or Sharad Pawar [Images] (Nationalist Congress Party). In India around 14 regional parties are run by a family or a small coterie.

However, a senior Congress office bearer and member of the coterie working for Sonia told, "Rahul Gandhi is talking sense, as there are a large number of leaders in Congress who have money, muscle and political power owing to their closeness to 10, Janpath (Congress chief's residence). But, if these senior and powerful leaders stand in an election, their win is uncertain because Congress does not have cadre working round the year. Congress cadre works only when the party is in power."

The senior Congressman explained further, "The opposite is also true. Even if you have loyal following at the block level and are popular in your district but if you can't get a ticket to fight an election, you are nobody in the party. Rahul Gandhi is trying to build the cadre of Congress as the BJP and Left parties have."

Rahul is talking about youth and merit-based democracy in political parties by having election for important posts. He wants to appeal to youth cutting across the two greatest barriers -- caste and communal divide, says a minister and former Congress office bearer.

According to political commenter Mahesh Rangrajan, Rahul has opened a Pandora's Box. Talking to, Rangarajan says, "He obviously has some idea of what ails the Congress. He has not only diagnosed it, but he is beginning the prescription for ailments. When he says that youth has no place in politics, he is right."

Anand Sharma, Minister of State and former Congress spokesperson, welcomes Rahul's statement. He says, "Rahul is talking about infusing fresh blood in the party and to do that he seeks a more open and transparent process."

Sharma goes on to defend the party saying, "Congress always believed in consensus building. As far as Rahul is concerned, he is emphasizing on merit. This is perfectly fine. He wants to strengthen democracy within party."

This also means that Rahul, being a party general secretary, will have a much larger say in the coming elections and in ticket distribution. His statements give an idea of the coming trend in selection of candidates for 15th Lok Sabha.

Over the years Rahul has gathered a database and is making a strategy for his party. However, he was unsuccessful in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

Ironically, it is precisely due to the lack of democracy in his party that Rahul Gandhi has the intangible power that no other Congress MP has; of course except his mother.

Rangrajan says, "Rahul's impulse can not be faulted. We want to know, does he have any strategy?"

Since 70 per cent of the country's population is aged under 40, Rahul's message is for the young people, thinks Rangrajan.

Rahul argues that Congress needs a 'complete overhaul' as the present arrangement is just not working out thereby creating a gap between people and the party. In essence, he means that when the common man joins a party, it paves the way for solving a bulk of the country's problems.

This is the beginning of the story, thinks Rangrajan.

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