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Rahul wants a no-nonsense Congress at any cost

August 06, 2013 21:43 IST

The Congress vice president has taken up the daunting task of bringing in a sea change in the working of the party, but also faces opposition from some old guards and regional satraps, notes Anita Katyal.

The work culture in the Congress is undergoing a gradual change ever since its vice-president Rahul Gandhi assumed larger responsibilities in the party over seven months ago.

Besides introducing corporate-style management techniques to streamline the functioning of the party machinery, the young Nehru-Gandhi scion has also put in place an elaborate system for the selection of candidates for the year-end assembly elections and the subsequent 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

At the same time, guidelines have been framed for the functioning of the election coordination committee, headed by Rahul Gandhi, which has started planning and strategising for the upcoming polls.

The template introduced by Rahul Gandhi was used successfully in the recent Karnataka elections, though it failed to deliver positive results in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress was virtually routed in last year’s assembly polls.

But Rahul Gandhi remains clearly unfazed. Continuing with the new approach, the party vice-president is credited with the view that the winnable candidates should be selected after a thorough and meticulous search process instead of depending only on recommendations from the state and central leaders who usually push the candidature of their relatives or their favourites. The emphasis, as always, is to pick the candidate who has the potential to win.

According to the new system devised by him, the party’s apex selection body -- the Central Election Committee -- will receive a panel of names of candidates which have been carefully sifted from the recommendations made by different committees, senior AICC office bearers revealed.

In addition, Rahul Gandhi has deployed 55 election observers who are to zero in on the right candidate for the right constituency. This exercise also bears the unmistakable Rahul stamp.

Unlike past times when the observers were chosen arbitrarily primarily with the objective of accommodating disgruntled elements, the party vice-president has directed that only persons who have contested and won at least one election (either Lok Saba or assembly) in their political career will be entrusted with the task of talent hunting in different parts of the country.

For the first time, the party’s block committees have been asked to send a resolution with the names of three to four names of candidates who stand a possible chance of winning from that constituency. The district committees have also been asked to go through a similar exercise and pass on their lists to the central and state headquarters.

These names are then to be vetted by the Pradesh Election Committee which, in turn, draws up a shortlist for the central screening committee. These names are to be supplemented by the candidates picked by the central party leaders on the basis of their internal surveys.

“It makes a lot of difference when you get feedback from multiple sources,” remarked a senior All India Congress Committee general secretary.

In another first, Rahul Gandhi has also directed the preparation of a special manual for the AICC general secretaries and secretaries which will specify their job profile. In his initial interactions with party office bearers, Rahul Gandhi was repeatedly told by the secretaries that they were not aware of their role in the organisation as most of them were not given any responsibilities by their seniors.

The proposed manual is meant to do away with any ambiguity on the functioning of office bearers. In another departure from the past, young Gandhi ensured during the last organisational reshuffle that AICC secretaries would not have to wait to be doled out work by their general secretaries and were instead given charge of states directly by him.

Adopting a hands on approach, Rahul Gandhi has been holding exhaustive deliberations with office bearers on a regular basis to get a feedback from them about the ground situation.

“These meetings are very business like. Each general secretary and secretary is expected to make a presentation about the number of times he has visited the states under his charge, the programmes he has conducted to mobilise party workers and identify the weakness in the organisation.” said a recently-inducted AICC secretary.

All office bearers and state unit heads have been given a six-page performa in which asking them to provide details about the membership of their district and state committees, the programmes undertaken and their targets.

Known to be impatient in his approach, specific instructions have been given to keep these presentations short and concise. In fact, during last month’s meeting with party spokespersons from the states, delegates were told that they should not meander and should be brief and, preferably, make one-line points.

The changes introduced by Rahul Gandhi are on expected lines as he had undertaken a similar exercise in revamping the party’s youth wings. It’s a different matter that the effort did not turn out to be a roaring success.

While the new systems are being accepted grudgingly by the party’s old guard, the Congress has its share of sceptics who are quick to point out that technology can never replace human relationships and that caste and regional considerations can never be dispensed within the selection of candidates.

It has to be seen if the new processes put in place by Rahul Gandhi will actually work in the face of the pulls and pressures often exerted by senior leaders and regional satraps.

There have been innumerable instances in the past when candidates are dropped by the central election committee even when the names come highly recommended by the district and state committees. Senior leaders often throw tantrums when their choices are rejected while those denied tickets are quick to rebel.

It is clear that Rahul Gandhi’s leadership is at stake in the coming elections and given the party’s poor image at present, the Congress vice-president has a daunting task ahead.

Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Anita Katyal in New Delhi