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Rahul Gandhi stars in AICC meet

Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi | August 21, 2004 18:36 IST
Last Updated: August 21, 2004 20:55 IST

He came. He saw. And he appeared to be imbibing important lessons.

Amethi Congress MP and party president Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul was the cynosure of all eyes on Saturday at the All-India Congress Committee meeting in New Delhi's Talkatora Stadium.

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An AICC session is a big affair in any case, given the size of the party, but Saturday's session was special for two reasons. First, it coincided with the late Congress president and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's birth anniversary celebrations. Second, it was the first AICC session after the party returned to power at the Centre after eight years.

The session was dedicated to Rajiv Gandhi's memory and it was very clear that the party saw it as an opportunity to anoint Rahul his heir apparent. All along the way to the venue, there were posters of Rahul, with a bold 'tilak' on his forehead, proclaiming him as 'the country's destiny'.

The stadium echoed with cries of 'Rahul Gandhi zindabad' and 'Sonia Gandhi zindabad' the moment the Gandhi scion entered. Rahul, looking a picture of confidence and composure, waved briefly to the cheering party workers and then took his seat near the rostrum on the left. Senior party leader and Union Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh sat beside him.

On the rostrum sat senior leaders and Congress Working Committee members. The MP from Amethi heard them all out with keen interest as they sang paeans of praise for Rajiv. But when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivered his lengthy address, Rahul was caught stifling a yawn, triggering some tittering in the media benches.

If he was distracted by the periodic slogan-shouting in his name, the first-time MP did not let it show. But Congress leaders did not lose any opportunity to praise him and Rahul, despite his stoicism, looked amused at times.

Janardhan Dwivedi, the newly appointed general secretary, whose stars seem to be on the ascendant, was the first to shower praise on Rahul. As soon as the Amethi MP entered the stadium, Dwiwedi announced on the public address system: "It [Gandhi's entry] symbolises the trend of the future."

Water Resources Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, referring to the Nehru-Gandhi family in his speech, asserted that "it is a movement, a symbol of secularism and unity". And in a direct reference to Rahul, he said: "My dear Rahul Gandhi, the nation is looking towards you."

Wasim Ahmed, Congress secretary, later told, "The overwhelming feeling among the people is that he [Rahul] symbolises hope for them in the future. He is young and dynamic and he is learning the ropes. There is no reason why he will not keep the flame of the Nehru-Gandhi family burning."

The pro-Sonia and pro-Rahul slogans contrasted sharply with the lack of any slogans for Manmohan Singh. The prime minister stuck to his habitual low profile, though the Congress managers ensured that his name was taken whenever any mention was made of the top party leadership.

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