Over 20,000 congressmen came together to celebrate the Indian National Congress completing 125 years of existence. But the mood at the 83rd plenary, held with all the pomp and show in a grand tent, did not reflect the grandness of the occasion. The mood was somber to start with, the party delegates sat quietly neither cheering nor shouting slogans as they normally do, asking Rahul Gandhi to speak.
It was a reflection of the problems being faced by the party outside Burari where the session was being held. The show stoppers Sonia and Rahul Gandhi both spoke during the day but it was the protest over Bihar which really stole the show. During a lull in the proceedings when the sound system went off, a group of delegates got up and began shouting slogans, resulting in the proceedings being disrupted.
Bihar marred the mood of the plenary, which was already somber. The issue of corruption which was the issue of the day had come home to hit the Congress hard with party insiders and All India Congress Committee members objecting to the corruption within the Congress which led to tickets being sold in bihar and the subsequent defeat of the party. The anger was directed against Mukul Wasnik the AICC general secretary in charge of Bihar, who has been blamed for the selling of the tickets.
"Mukul Wasnik ko manch se utaro, mukul wasnik chor hai (Get Mukul Wasnik off the dias, Mukul Wasnik is a thief)", were the slogans being shouted. Leaders came down from the dias and tried to intervene, the electronic media suddenly had a story in the midst of a dull day. Finally they were persuaded to leave but the bytes continued outside the venue.
The pent up frustration against Wasnik had been building up since the Bihar election results. A large number of delegates were barred from attending the session but later they were allowed to come in.
An AICC member Urmila Singh said that tickets had been sold in Bihar with loyal party workers being ignored and outsiders and anti-social elements being given tickets. The party got 4 seats in a house of 243.
The maximum cheers for both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi came when they asked ministers and chief ministers to spend time in meeting and listening to party workers. Sonia gandhi said the party had been cut off from the workers and the workers were feeling neglected and left out.
Interestingly Rahul Gandhi also made the same point almost as though he were directing the ministers seated on the dias and in the front row to spend some time for the workers. The remarks were greeted with huge round of applause.
Rahul Gandhi's speech was almost like the young leader's coming of age. He gave a speech on the broad contours of development, on the need to make the aam aadmi (common man) a part of the system, on the issues of corruption, on the need to connect with the workers and the grass root karyakartas, on the need to give equal opportunities to the poor and the aam aadmi.
His speech in many ways complimented that of his mother and with the house listening in rapt attention, it looked as though he was ready to move on from the Youth Congress onto the main stream party platform.
In view of the thrashing the party had received, Sonia Gandhi spent a fair amount of time tackling the issue of corruption and suggesting various solutions which can help in tackling this. She said that ministers and chief ministers should give up the power for discretionary land allotment and quotas which were the fountainhead of corruption. After a moment when there was no clapping she said "I see none of you has clapped after this suggestion".
The leadership also appears to have realised the need for a long overdue brain storming session along the lines of Panchmarhi and Shimla with the Congress president suggesting that this would be organized soon to discuss various issues.
She spent a moment praising the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying that the party was solidly behind him.
Leaders from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu expressed unhappiness over the alliance saying that any alliance should not be at the cost of the party's self respect. The hit was directed against Mamata Banerjee whom they said was criticial of the party in west Bengal and did not even invite local MPs to functions where she was present.
But one of the best and most hard hitting speeches came from AICC General Secretary Digvijaya Singh who was one of the only leaders to forcefully and forcibly attack the BJP- Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the mindset of the Sangh Parivar. He said they had infiltrated all aspects of life and described the Babri Masjid demolition as the biggest blot on the nation. Singh asked the home minister to enquire into the activities of the RSS and other such organisations and said that all the terrorist attacks by hindus were from those who belonged to the RSS and its affiliates.
Digvijaya Singh said that Rajiv Gandhi had picked up leaders like him, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and many others and made them Pradesh Congress Committee presidents at a young age as well as given them other posts. He said that now that their expiry date was nearing, Rahul Gandhi should do the same and bring in young leaders to man key posts in the organisation. He said it was time for the youth to come forward and take over the reins.
This was also seen as a pointed signal to PM Manmohan Singh to let Rahul take over the reigns of the government. The prime minister sat through the day's proceedings and did not speak a word. He is scheduled to open deliberations on the second day when he will address the plenary in the morning while the economic resolution would be moved by dr CP Joshi the panchayati raj minister. Pranab Mukherjee moved the political resolution while AK Antony moved the resolution on the party completing 125 years.