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Burari Diary: Secret anxiety lurks behind gala event

Last updated on: December 21, 2010 19:44 IST's Sheela Bhatt presents an insider's view of the Congress plenary held at Burari.

On Monday afternoon, when our car was about to reach Burari (Buradi in Hindi), where the All India Congress Committee's maha-adhiveshan (grand conclave) was on, a middle-aged man wearing heavily-starched khadi kurta,a mundu, clutching a cell phone in his hand, asked for a ride. In New Delhi, no sane person gives a ride to a stranger.
But, the South Indian man was harassed to see that on a North Indian highway, car drivers simply don't care.

I gave him a ride to the Congress's grand conclave at Burari, a distant middle-class town linked to New Delhi by highways and over-bridges. The Congressman was relieved to get a free ride. He cursed the winter in Delhi and said since he got up late due to the chill, he missed the bus from Kerala House.
In fact, according to media reports more than 1,000 Congressmen from South India have consulted doctors at the medical centre set up by the party. They are suffering from cold-related complaints. Our guest turned out to be a MLA from Kerala. 
When asked ,"How's the party doing?" he replied " Confusion, madam, total confusion!"
He elaborated, "In Kerala, the people are well-informed. They are more well read than other states. They watch a lot of TV. They know all about the 2G spectrum scam. These scams affect us too."
He said, "In Kerala, the Congress is doing well but our information is that Oommen Chandy may not become chief minister. Some people say Vyalar Ravi is now, ahead in the race to become CM.  We (Kerala Congress) are divided in four groups. Ravi, A K Antony, Ramesh Chennithala and Oommen Chandy -- all have different camps. We don't know who will get more seats."
When asked how the Congress is likely to perform in coming assembly election, he said confidently, "We will get 110 seats out of 140. The Left Front's rule is a total failure. We have to face the 2G spectrum probe and the CWG scam but Chief Minister Achyutanandan's government has not built any roads. There are no jobs. Look at the roads in Kerala and you will know why they (the Left) will lose." 

When we reached the venue of Congress summit while thanking us he asked, "What do you think, who will become CM?"
I remembered a senior minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet. Just two days before this summit he had told select journalists in an off-the-record briefing, "Politics is indeed rocket science. Only those who practise it know the nuances and science of it."
While saying good bye to the Congressman from Kerala, I thought how true he was. The minister had warned us that the Congress party's plenary event at Burari was just a gala event, "It's a tamasha (spectacle). It's organised only because it's required by the party's constitution otherwise no party leader would even think of having it. The next such adhiveshan won't be held for another five-six years."
Importantly, the Congress minister had also frankly said, "The 2G scam has not affected Congress as much as the 'No JPC' fiasco has."

Surely, if you listen to party chief Sonia Gandhi's opening and closing speech at Burari, it was clear that instead of talking about Congress's grand and creative plans for the future, she was talking only about how to withstand the allegations of corruption and combat the Bharatiya Janata Party.
On entering the huge ground, where many giant pandals were erected I met a member of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh.

In the Congress, there is no way you can get away unhurt if you criticise party or it's leaders on the record unless you want to invite the sacking to move to another party.

Except Digvijay Singh, nobody speaks freely. Singh had recently dubbed Home Minister P Chidambaram as an arrogant man, saying he had no understanding of the Naxal issue and yet Singh still enjoys a very special status within the party.
If the Kerala MLA was all set to depend on "only local issues" to fight the Left-led alliance in his state, this Andhra MP was much more dejected with 24, Akbar Road, his party's headquarters.
In an eclectic mix of Hindi, English and Telugu, he told "Sab kuch niche ja raha hai.(everything is slipping out of hand). Our leader's speeches are not raising hopes. Soniaji and the PM have said we are not involved in 2G scam. We are clean. We are not afraid. Then, I ask them why did you accept A Raja's resignation? Last month, we told the high command not to accept Raja's resignation. Don't be afraid of the BJP. What does his resignation means to you, tell me? Our voters in Andhra will now say if Raja is involved in the scam, how can the Congress be safe?"
All politicians and particularly Congressmen have deep faith in conspiracy theories. He asked me, "Do you know that A Raja has got some letter with him that would implicate the Congress?"
Whe asked about Telangana, the MP said, "Kiran Reddy (Andhra CM) is a super flop. We have heard that the Srikrishna Commission report is not going to favour Telangana. Then, take my word the AP government won't be allowed to function. In my constituency, people are now saying that the UPA-2 is full of scams. The problem is that people don't listen to your clarifications."
When you are in a Congress mela,  how can you not ask a MP about his views on his young leader Rahul Gandhi. The prompt reply was, "He is 40 years old. Please don't call him young. Voh to MP ko milta nahin.( He doesn't meet MPs.) He avoids us. Talk about Rahul Gandhi after a few years. In the last two days, all Congress MPs and MLAs who have come from all over India are only talking about one thing. Will the DMK leave the UPA-2? Will the government become unstable? If J Jayalalitha comes to support us (the UPA), what price will she charge us?"

"Madam, may I tell you one thing?" He tells me in hush-hush  tone, "This is all a waste of time. We are told Rahul is our future but we are saying save our government first."
Since I don't like "off the record" interviews, I got hold of Madhusudan Mistry from Gujarat.

Mistry, an activist-turned-politician had worked hard for two full days to deliver a speech at the conclave. He gave a well-researched speech on the political resolution passed on the first day.

Mistry looked excited and happy. He said Prime Minister Singh and Pranab Mukherjee had personally congratulated him for his speech. I missed the speech but I could see how all Indian politicians attain instant nirvana when their supreme leaders personally appreciate their words.

What Mistry told me will surprise you. He said, "You know we Congressmen are not vigorous like the BJP. They (BJP) have the killer instinct. The BJP is scam-ridden but see how they talk against us! I give the challenge to the BJP to debate with me on how (Gujarat CM) Narendra Modi has given tax benefits to companies like Adani, Reliance and Tata. How the Gujarat government has swindled money from the Sujlam-Sufalam programme."

Mistry candidly agreed that, "Our leaders have spoken well but there's a question mark over what message the Congress workers will carry home."
While talking about the Congress's stubborn approach of not allowing a JPC to investigate the 2G spectrum scam, Mistry said, "We can't be bullied by people who have lost elections." Then, in a lighter tone, he added, "I forgot to mention in my speech that all Congressmen should wear khadi. Even if you are drinking whisky in khadi, your conscience will prick you. Before indulging in corruption, you will think twice if you are wearing khadi."
When asked about Rahul Gandhi's presence and speech on Monday, Mistry said, "The message is clear. Rahul Gandhi has got the mandate and authority from the party!"

On the ground outside the pandal, ordinary Congress workers were clamouring to catch a glimpse of ministers, party leaders and Rahul Gandhi. Their looks and behaviour exactly matched Rahul Gandhi's description of  the aam adami. (common man).

Rahul said people who are not connected to the system are aam aadmi. These ordinary people (not rich Congressmen) were given lousy food on day one. They had to walk four times more than the VVIPs. They had difficulty in reaching to venue because at the odd timings of buses from New Delhi. They wanted only one thing: One snapshot with "netaji" on their mobile phones. There were very few women in the crowd and discouraging numbers of youth. The crowd's jaded looks could be due to the ordinary arrangements at the venue which was improved only on the second day. 

When Digvijay Singh was talking to scores of media men in press enclave one senior Congressman, a former minister from north India, said, " His (Digvijay Singh's) voice is not the party's voice. He was too shrill yesterday. He should not have given such a speech. His speech has divided the party. It's a gamble and that's not going to pay off."
The gentleman who was worried about Digvijay's provocative speech was once a Congress spokesman. He added, "We should not divide the Hindus. Such a polarisation is not good."

Digvijay has tried to separate "Hindus" from the "terror-tainted-Hindu" accused who are arrested in the Malegaon and Ajmer and Mecca Masjid bomb blast cases. 

He added, "I hope he (Digvijay) will brazen it out and the media will also take up the PM"s speech tomorrow morning." 

In her closing remarks Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress will hold at least one public meeting in each constituency as part of its "Jan Jagran Abhiyan (Public awareness campaign)" to inform people about the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance government and expose the BJP's double-speak on the issue of corruption.

Promptly she was dismissed by an onlooker. "More than 40% states in India don't have a Pradesh Congress Committee chief. The Congress's decision-making body is so slow that Sonia Gandhi's action plan to counter corruption charges are bound to fail."
On our return, we saw two choppers flying above our head and PM Manmohan Singh's ten car cavalcade passed by us.

One aam aadmi, an ordinary Congress worker was stopping the cars and distributing a book printed in glazed newsprint titled: Truth versus Lie. The booklet had printed allegations aginst Haryana's chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and some judges.
Jai ho aam aadmi ki! Long live aam aadmi!

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi