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Cong goes all-out to show Rahul's imprint, vision in manifesto

March 26, 2014 19:43 IST

Described as a novel and pioneering process, Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi said the party's manifesto was based on the views and opinions gathered from people from all walks of life. Anita Katyal reports

The unveiling of the Congress party’s 2014 election manifesto on Wednesday was essentially a Rahul Gandhi show.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and senior party leader A K Antony -- who headed the manifesto committee -- spoke on the occasion, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi was the centre of attention.

The huge hoarding, serving as the backdrop at the specially-erected dais, said it all. A smiling Rahul Gandhi, who dominated the frame, was shown talking to representatives of different social groups while the PM and Sonia Gandhi were reduced to mere stamp-size photographs and relegated to one corner. The hoarding was a reproduction of the cover of the election manifesto document.

The tagline accompanying the visual read as “Your Voice, Our Pledge” followed by the Hindi version: Har Haath Shakti, Har Haath Tariki.  

This was in stark contrast to the copies of the 2009 election manifesto that had photographs of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh splashed on the cover. At the release of the 2009 manifesto, Sonia Gandhi had placed her hand on her own image and pointed to Manmohan Singh’s photograph when asked about the party’s prime ministerial candidate. This time she merely reiterated that the elected MPs would choose their leader after the polls.   

This was also the last time when the grand old party’s leading trio -- Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi -- would be addressing a joint press conference at the party headquarters. Manmohan Singh has publicly declared that he is not in contention for the prime minister’s post.

The tone of the proceedings at Wednesday’s programme was set by AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi and Defence Minister A K Antony. Both leaders were at pains to point out that the manifesto bore Rahul Gandhi’s distinct imprint and vision.

Antony maintained that unlike previous manifestos, the party had adopted a novel method to put together the 2014 document at Rahul Gandhi’s behest. Rahul on his part insisted that the manifesto reflects the voices and aspirations of the Indian people.

Rahul Gandhi had held a series of interactive sessions with different social groups across the country to elicit their suggestions which, in turn, had been incorporated in the final document. “It was a novel and pioneering process,” Antony added.

A six-minute film, screened at the start of the programme, provided a glimpse into the exhaustive exercise undertaken by the Nehru-Gandhi scion over the past several months to prepare the manifesto.

Showing visuals of the Congress vice-president in conversation with women, jawans, anganwadi workers, railway porters, fishermen, representatives of scheduled castes, the film declared, “10,000 participants, 100s of ideas, 27 locations across India, five months, one manifesto.”

It began with Rahul Gandhi declaring how it had been decided to open up the process of putting together the party’s election manifesto by going out and  seeking suggestions from the people.

The film showed a young girl telling Rahul Gandhi that she took umbrage to the inclusion of women in the weaker sections, a rickshaw puller telling him how their life had not changed in the past so many decades, a railway porter seeking an increase in payment, a fisherman sought a separate department to deal with their problems, while a Muslim youngster asked, “Can we hope to see a communal free India? We need minorities to feel safe.”

Rahul Gandhi, whose visage dominated the screen as these clips rolled by, was heard trotting out his now-famous lines to his audience. “The country cannot progress if we do not empower women” or “the more power we give to the people, the better it is for the country.”

Showcasing Rahul Gandhi’s pro-poor credentials, the film sought to send out the message that the party’s future leader is the harbinger of change.

Talking about the manifesto and taking questions from the media later, a far more self-assured Rahul Gandhi declared the 2014 manifesto reflects the voices of people.

"It is a public manifesto based on the views and opinions gathered from the people from all walks of life across India,” he declared, adding that it was not prepared behind closed doors in Delhi.

Stating that the United Progressive Alliance government had delivered on all the promises it had made in the 2009 manifesto, the Congress vice-president also sought to dispel the public perception that the grand old party is anti-industry or economic growth.

“The Congress believes that if the country has to grow, it is important to have a partnership between the business community and the common people. And the Congress is the best party to achieve this,” Rahul Gandhi said. He said the party manifesto had promised to put in a trillion dollars in infrastructure, more money into highways, railways and construct a manufacturing backbone which will lead to job creation.

While stating that the country cannot move forward by focussing on one of these sections, Rahul Gandhi said, “The problem with the BJP is that they have a mindset where only a few people will run the country.”

Image: Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi addresses a rally

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Anita Katyal/ in New Delhi