The extended Congress Working Committee which met on Monday after a gap of a year authorised Congress President Sonia Gandhi to select the party's nominee for the next President and vice-president of India, which sources in the party say was the main reason for calling the CWC since the leadership did not want any voices raised later that unilateral decisions were being taken by 10, Janpath.
Interestingly, in Congress circles the talking point was Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda's speech.
Hooda's speech is being considered significant in party circles. He began by telling the leadership that the time has come to take big decisions. He said that Rahul Gandhi should be given a much bigger role in the party. Hooda said that Indira Gandhi implemented the Kamraj plan and that she (Sonia Gandhi) should do the same thing. He said that nobody in the party or government would resign willingly but said he was offering his resignation so that younger leaders can be brought in and Rahul should become active.
A number of leaders found his speech significant because Hooda is not known to be a person who speaks strongly on such issues on his own. While senior leaders may have prompted him to speak in this manner, it is felt the leadership wanted to test the waters to see how much of enthusiasm is there for Rahul Gandhi.
But strangely enough no one followed up and spoke in favour of bringing in Rahul Gandhi to the forefront with the exception being Ajit Jogi who set the ball rolling by asking Rahul Gandhi to give up the Youth Congress-National Students Union of India syndrome and to take on a bigger role for himself. Senior leaders are of the impression that Rahul's stock is down in the Congress party with very few willing to root strongly for him. He did not speak at the meeting as AICC general secretaries did not speak during the meeting.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who himself did not speak at the meeting got up, went to where Hooda was sitting and shook his hand and congratulated him for his speech.
There was a great deal of criticism against the Union ministers with one member telling Sonia Gandhi that it is easier to meet her than the ministers. They said whenever the central ministers visit the states, they spend time with government officials and have no time for party leaders or workers from the state.
They said ministers do not inform the Pradesh Congress Committee's and the district units when they visit the states and this becomes very embarrassing as their tour schedules are not known. But the worst criticism was that they go to Opposition-ruled states and give certificates naming them as the no 1 state while the local Congress unit has to fight those state governments on a daily basis. The largest number of complaints by the CWC invitees were over the behaviour of ministers.
Interestingly the veteran leader S C Jamir launched what is being seen as a hit at Sonia Gandhi when he said that the time had come when regional leaders must be allowed to grow and control their states and unless this is done the party could take a bad hit.
Interestingly, the resolution moved to authorise Sonia Gandhi to select the next President was moved by Pranab Mukherjee and this has lent itself to a number of interpretations with some sections of the leaders of the view that the person who moves the resolution is not nominated at the end of the day.
But Mukherjee himself said there is nothing new in this. While briefing the press later he said he had been involved in this process since 1974 though in a 'minor capacity'. He said that except for 1969 when there was a division in the Congress party and the responsibility for the decision was given to the parliamentary party, always it has been the case that the Congress president is authorized to pick the presidential nominee. He said that the Congress is a party of consensus and any decision will be taken but allies and others will be consulted.
As reported, the day-long meeting where 42 out of the 98 invitees spoke was reflective of gloom in the party. The prime minister defended himself on every issue and Sonia Gandhi was also quick to run down those forces and the opposition which were attacking the government, the prime minister and the party but despite that the mood was of cynicism with a number of members attacking the government.
The tone and tenor suggested that there was little enthusiasm within the ranks with most speakers being critical of the government and the party and the manner in which affairs of the state are being run.