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Congress conclave: Why was it held?

By Sharat Pradhan in Nainital
September 25, 2006 19:35 IST
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The much-hyped two-day Congress chief ministers' conclave that concluded in Nainital on Sunday is seen as an exercise in futility.

There was not a single recommendation despite deliberations lasting 10 hours on the first day and over three hours of brainstorming the following day.

At the end of the show, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it as a 'good learning experience' while Congress president Sonia Gandhi termed it as an 'intense discussion on vital issues like agriculture and internal security'.

Even then, the conclave, which was covered extensively by the media -- more than 250 media-persons were ushered all the way from Delhi -- ended in a damp squib.

Since both Sonia Gandhi and Dr Singh had nothing to say about what transpired at the closed-door sessions, which also included one-to-one meetings with each of the chief ministers, the media waited eagerly for the press conference at the end of the show.

And whatever byte was forthcoming from either Sonia or Dr Singh was lapped up by the media, which had to churn stories out of virtually nothing.

Local activist and journalist Harish Pant of the Nainital Samachar felt, "Visibly, the whole exercise was aimed at generating hype on issues that have brought much discredit to the Congress."

A professor in Kumaon University, who did not wish to be named, said, "Sonia and the prime minister, who often talk about austerity, could have saved millions of rupees if this meet had been organised in Delhi."

Former principal of the local government intermediate college Dr Kundal Lal Sah wondered why Sonia and Dr Singh had to come all the way to Nainital to discuss issues "related to agriculture and internal security", both of which have very little relevance to Uttaranchal.

Shah, a 67-year-old activist who was also jailed for his participation in the Uttarakhand movement in the '90s, pointed out: "Agriculture in this state is limited to the small area in our plains that was quite rich; internal security is also of little consequence here."

Local legislator Narain Singh of the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal agrees. "In fact, even where these two important issues were concerned, what prompted the big bosses to limit it to only Congress chief ministers?" he wondered.

"Would it be feasible for any central government to enforce its decision either with respect to agriculture, and more particularly internal security, without taking into confidence the governments of other political parties in different states?"

Another issue that remains unanswered is the very objective of the conclave. It definitely was not just another junket. After all, the chief ministers, central ministers, AICC general secretaries and other office-bearers remained confined to the venue from where they could not get a glimpse of even the Naini lake, the star attraction of this beautiful tourist destination in the midst of the Kumaon Himalayas.

Several chief ministers did bring alone their own PR entourage, obviously with the aim of gaining some good press, but none got a chance to interact with journalists even for a minute.

Some observers, who witnessed the whole affair from a distance, wondered whether the conclave was just another ritual to reaffirm the point that no one else but Sonia was the boss.

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