On the eve of the much-hyped Chintan Shivir in the pink city, economic issues are back with a bang on the agenda with Union Oil Minister Veerapa Moily choosing to deregulate the price of diesel and allowing oil companies to affect increase in the price of diesel, in the same manner as had happened with petrol. Renu Mittal reports.
The government has tried to do a bit of a balancing act by increasing the quantum of subsidised LPG cylinders from 6 to 9 but the cascading effect of a diesel price hike is seen to be a matter of concern by large sections of the Congress.
Already there have been reports that senior Congress leaders want the reforms process to be tempered with concerns about the problems of the common man. Senior leaders want the entire issue re-examined but the fact that under the direction of the prime minister the reforms process has been given a hefty push, clearly indicates that Dr Manmohan Singh is in a hurry to hasten the reforms agenda and is not in a mood to listen to skeptics within the party who have serious electoral concerns in mind.
Does the fact that the diesel de-regulation decision has been taken on the eve of the Chintan Shivir and that this will hijack much of the proposed agenda clearly point to the brain storming session being nothing more than a formality, to please the rank and file of the party and show that the Congress leadership is interested only in paying lip service rather than seriously discussing issues.
These and many other questions are being asked by the Congress leaders who have begun to arrive in Jaipur for the two-day Chintan Shivir followed by a one-day All India Congress Committee meeting.
The brainstorming conclave has been called to chalk out the party's future course of action and to project party general secretary Rahul Gandhi as the future leader of the party who will take over the reigns of power within the party from his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in times to come.
That he is the natural and nominated number two has already been announced by none-other-than Ahmed Patel in an exclusive interview to rediff.com. Rahul will also lead the party's election campaign in the run up to the 2014 general elections with analysts saying that one reason why he has not been named as the prime ministerial candidate is because there is already a prime minister at the helm of affairs and he has another year to go till the next elections.
It is well understood in the understated language of the Congress that bit-by-bit Rahul is being given the command to take decisions and manage the party affairs. It was his decision to call a number of youth congress and NSUI: National Students' Union of India delegates to give a general Next feel to the conclave as many of these will be projected leaders in the days to come.
But what is not known with any degree of clarity is Rahul's economic ideology and how far he subscribes to the reforms agenda. With economic issues likely to be raised in a big way during the Shivir, it is expected that Rahul will intervene and express his views.
Senior Congress leaders have already admitted that economic issues have been the most difficult to resolve as there are no clear-cut answers on how far the reforms agenda should be pushed by the leadership.
The fact that the Congress president has put no full-stops on the cutting of subsidies and the deregulation of first petrol and now diesel, which affects the prices of essential commodities, the farming sector etc implies her approval to the decisions being taken by the government, say Congress leaders.
It is also learnt that chief ministers of Congress-ruled states are expected to be put on the mat and asked questions during the Shivir on various aspects of governance, development and in particular regarding the implementation of centrally funded schemes. The youth brigade is likely to ask state leaders questions on the manner in which the states are being run.
This aspect has come on the agenda amid rising worries within the party leadership that with some 10 states moving towards elections this year and the general elections slated for 2014, there is palpable worry that the chief ministers have not been able leave as much of a mark as the leadership desired.
The feedback from the various states shows that the opposition ruled states have fared much better in terms of implementing Central schemes and many of them have taken credit for these as though they were state schemes. The same cannot be said for Congress chief ministers said a senior CWC leader.
The Congress-ruled states which are in trouble and where there has been an erosion in the popularity of the Congress are primarily Rajasthan, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra and where questions continue to be raised on the issue of leadership change in these states.
It's after a gap of 10 years that the Congress is holding its brainstorming session. The last one was in Shimla in 2003 where a crucial decision on alliances was taken which catapulted the Congress to power at the centre with its allies in tow.
There is no such confusion over alliances now in 2013. Having been in power for two terms, the worry now is how to minimise the anti-incumbency, how to win back the support of the aam admi, how to bring in schemes which will help the party electorally as happened in 2009 but most important of all how to bring down the prices of essential commodities .
As Rahul moves to the centre-stage of the Congress and prepares to take over control, the two-day shivir followed by the AICC meeting is a challenge for him to reconcile the numerous contradictions which exit in the United Progressive Alliance government and at the same time give a clear message to party men on how these issues would be resolved.