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Rahul Gandhi's speech: Shades of a younger Rajiv
Sheela Bhatt in Hyderabad
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January 23, 2006 17:35 IST

At around noon Rahul Gandhi [Images], son of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] took his first steps on the national political stage cautiously, gracefully and without faltering.

Rahul speech gave signals which can be termed off-beat and somewhat risky given the conservative nature of Indian politics.

By saying that the Indian flag is my religion he has embarked upon a path of refreshing nationalism.

And in showing reluctance to take up a party post immediately he is testing the patience of his party men, who are worried about the Congress' dwindling future in many states.

Complete coverage: Congress plenary

He spoke of the importance of working at the grassroots before taking up any leadership role. Now if he does take up a post under pressure, his message will be lost before it can sink in.

He wants to come into the party at his own terms and time, say sources.

"Let us move into the battlefield, the heart of India" was his clarion call to his party men.

Rahul Gandhi read out a prepared speech and spoke in Hindi and English.

He looked like a well-tutored rookie but he presented himself in a dignified style befitting his family's dynasty -- which is what mattered to his party men.

Your say: Is Rahul Gandhi the answer?

Notwithstanding the stage-managed drama that preceded his debut speech at the 82nd Congress plenary, Rahul presented himself as a leader who doesn't want to blame other parties but wanted his party to introspect.

Rahul has adopted a different route and it will be interesting to see how he goes from here. He has called the bluff of old Congress analysts who have habit of pushing weaknesses under the carpet.

His speech may not have driven Congresmen into a frenzy but it would greatly appeal people who are concerned about changing India and want to participate in these changes. His speech was less inspiring, more introspective.

Although he presented himself as a decent man who wants to enter muddy waters of politics he also sounded impractical and idealistic.

To many veteran followers of the party he sounded just like his father Rajiv Gandhi in his early years.

Rahul did not show the aggression considered necessary in today's politics but his speech suppressed anger for Congress's failures in many states.

Excerpts of his speech first delivered in Hindi and later in English:

Adhyaksh mahodaya and honourable Prime Minister, AICC members and friends, Namaskar!

I feel proud to be in a beautiful city like Hyderabad and in participating in such a historic session. The people of Andhra Pradesh have always shown love and faith towards my family and I'll be always thankful for it. This is the first time that I am participating in such a convention and I had decided that I'll hear and learn from the views of elders and the views of the party's future leadership.

Since all of you have expressed desire to hear me I am raising only one point.

The political resolution presented here will lead to a debate on today's political situation. On this issue, my other intellectual leaders and AICC friends will also put forward their views. I want to speak only on one issue raised in the resolution. It said that in whichever states the Congress is weak, it has to be lifted up again.

We need to strengthen the Congress. Regions in northern India used to be the Congress's bastion. Our organisation used to derive inspiration from the north Indian states.

It is here that it got its strength and here that it grew. Now the question arises how our biggest strength has become our weakness? Everyone present here is indebted to people of India. They have given us the opportunity to stand here.

Every citizen of India has the right to live with dignity. Every citizen has right to be a partner in the country's future. But most times they don't get this break. The Congress party is one such medium, an organisation which belongs to the Indian people. Our organisation only can help them to get such an opportunity. One thing is clear before us. In some states our organsation is not working effectively. People give many reasons for this failure. They blame communal and religion based parties. I absolutely disagree with this assessment. My thinking on this issue is, we have failed only in those areas where we have stopped fighting for the voters and their problems.

We have become weak because we have failed to fulfill the expectations of the people. We have lost the competence to help grow our talented Congress workers with the help of the party.

Now I'll speak a few words in English.

Our large number of grassroot leaders and workers, you know the difference between a true leader and a neta. You are supposed to know that a leadership cannot be created. It has to be built slowly, brick by brick.

There is no fasttrack to success in creating leaders. I believe, while looking into the future, our party has a huge opportunity. We have this opportunity because we have three strengths. We have capable and experienced leadership that brought us to power by serving our country and our party. We have Manmohan Singh [Images]ji, our prime minister and Sonia Gandhiji, our president, a president who leads us all. Our second strength is our grassroots workers. They are men and women in every village and mohalla who have been ignored. The Congress person who toils in the field carrying our flag and braves the lathis of the opposition. They are the backbone of our party. Our third strength is our youth. Today we are oldest party of India and also the youngest. Amongst all political parties of today we have the largest number of young leaders. Of all the political parties today the young are looking at us. Of all the parties today we have youngest and most modern thinking. We must embrace the young of our country and we will have huge organisational power to unleash the immense energy of backward India.

With due respect I would like to make two appeals. The first is to our grassroots worker and to the youth of our party and second appeal is to our leaders. To our grassroot workers and young I would like to humbly say let us move into a battlefield, the heart of India. let us go to the villages, and the towns and the cities. Let us go to universities and schools. Let us move away from the corridors of power. Let us cement the links with our people. Let us listen to wisdom of our great people. Let us understand their concerns and their aspirations. Let us become leaders by listening and by learning and by working rather than through post and positions.

To our elders I humbly want to say that we are your soldiers, provide us with the task you want us to fulfill, identify and reward us for our success. Open the doors of the Congress party to thousands and millions of Indians who believe in our ideology. But the most important thing is to recognise workers who carry our flag and give them work in our organisation.

The Congress party and the Indian people have a glorious history together. We have struggled together to earn freedom. We have strived together to become self-reliant in food production. Together we will build India's bridge into 21st century. We have new challenges to overcome and new dreams to fulfill. New examples to set and new realties to face.

Let us cement the Congress party's unique partnership of youth and wisdom and make it unbeatable. Thank you.

(Turns back to mike and adds)

I have one last thing to say. Someone once asked me what my religion was. I thought about it and I answered that the Indian flag was my religion. And I promised myself after my father died that I would serve the people this flag represents. By taking up a job before I know what my people and workers feel and need I will be doing a disservice both to my religion and to my party. It's time to learn and understand so that I can serve people and party better. I appreciate and I am grateful for your feelings and support. I assure you I will not let you down. Thank you.

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