The massive rally organised by the Congress party at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds on Sunday was a prelude to the party preparing itself for a general election in the event of the government falling before its time, writes Renu Mittal
A combative Sonia Gandhi and an assertive Rahul Gandhi have sharply hit back at their opponents and detractors, sending a clear message that the Congress party will stand up and fight and not be cowed down by those who have written it off.
The show of strength may at least help the party send a strong message to its cadres.
The massive gathering of Congress workers and leaders from all parts of the country at Ramlila Grounds on Sunday morning was the Congress party's answer to its opponents, that despite the allegations and accusations the Congress is alive and kicking. This visible strength, from the block level upwards to the prime minister, was showcased by the party as the leadership answered the charges on corruption and price rise, the two issues that have rocked the Congress boat.
Seeking to involve Congressmen in the hour of crisis when the party was under attack from all sides, Sonia Gandhi's subterranean message to the workers and leaders was not to be afraid since this was the party of Jawaharlal Nehru and it had done a great deal of good for the country and would continue to work for the poor, the downtrodden and the weaker sections.
Rahul Gandhi in his speech sought to bring the aam admi back into the Congress discourse. There was implicit criticism of the party when he said the youth, the poor and the weaker sections, if fact the aam aadmi, does not think he belongs. Rahul said the system did not support the poor and the youth, and the doors of political parties were not open for them.
But a confident Rahul Gandhi said they would change the system and involve the aam aadmi in the political system.
Like his mother, he too was critical of the opposition which only criticised, and laid out the schemes and benefits that had come to the people from the United Progressive Alliance government. He said there was so much talk of corruption but it was because of the Right to Information Act that the common man could get information on what the government was doing.
The prime minister defended the government on economic reforms and explained the rationale behind the price rise, but the actual political thrust to the rally came from Sonia Gandhi who said she understood that people were pained by price rise and it was difficult for the poor to make ends meet. She said the government's hands were tied because of global increase in prices. Sonia scored over Dr Singh and even Rahul.
She asked the Bharatiya Janata Party to stop pointing fingers at the Congress, and said that those who dig pits for others themselves end up falling in it.
The chief ministers of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan had mobilised the bulk of the crowds even as the assessment was that this was one of the biggest rallies organised by the Congress in a long time. Apart from the Ramlila ground, there were people spilling out all over the roads, with estimates of the crowds varying from two to five lakh.
The leadership looked happy at the turnout and the massive efforts made to bring in the crowds. State leaders were asked to look after the contingents from their states and senior leaders were all in attendance as they had been directed to be present.
For the Congress, which had been under wholesale attack over the last couple of years, the Ramlila rally was also its way of telling the Opposition not to underestimate the might and strength of the party that had a presence in every block and every gaon in the country.
The gains from this rally will be carried forward to the November 9 samvad baithak to be held in Surajkund in Haryana where the party will mull over its successes and failures and try and pinpoint the reasons why it has not been successful in explaining to the people the reasons for price rise. The prime minister and his Cabinet colleagues will also be asked to give a report card on why so many of the promises in the manifesto remain unfulfilled and why the various ministries have not done their work.
The stock-taking and the analysis are a prelude to the party preparing itself for a general election in the event of the government falling before its time. If it does not, the party will have the time to take corrective steps and bring in place systems and reforms which may happen after Diwali when Rahul Gandhi is expected to usher in a much younger leadership in the All India Congress Committee, same way it happened in the government.
Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi at the Congress rally in New Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on Sunday.
Credit: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters