Beginning of a new era
The one-day AICC meeting on Friday has demonstrated that Rahul Gandhi has come of age. Whatever his opponents may say, he made a brilliant speech at the AICC, perhaps his best after his impressive oration at the Jaipur conclave where he was anointed Vice-President of the party. Can the new found resolve to lead from the front help him to make a difference in the Congress Party’s fortune in the coming Lok Sabha elections? The odds are against him. Apart from Narendra Modi’s challenge, a new threat has come in form of Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal. The AAP leader, Kumar Viswas, has posed a challenge to Rahul himself on his home turf – Amethi. It is too early to say how serious is threat to Nehru-Gandhi scion but it will certainly not going to be a cake-walk for him. There is no denying the fact that the current mood is in favour of AAP. The Delhi AICC has turned out to be a ‘Rahul session’. The Congress, after long, has wisely taken a right decision – after many bloomers – not to nominate Rahul as the Congress party’s prime ministerial candidate. The Congress need not float a candidate for the top job because everybody knows who will be the PM in the event of the Congress getting enough numbers to stake its claim to form the government. As a matter of fact, the Congress never declared its Prime Ministerial nominee because it was known who would be the PM. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, he was the obvious choice.
Recall the days when Lal Bahadur Shastri was elected the Leader of the Congress Party in Parliament after demise of Jawaharlal Nehru. As soon as the mourning for Nehru was over, Shastri was elected his successor by the CPP by consensus. Earlier, the working committee had adopted a resolution demanding, that a new Prime Minister be chosen by consensus and not by contest. K Kamaraj had by then become the Congress President and he ascertained the Consensus which was in favour of Shastri.
For the first time a contest for the prime minister’s post was held on 19 January 1966 by secret ballot. Morarji Desai was determined not to give up without a fight. Indira Gandhi won, securing 355 votes to Desai’s 169. After that Rajiv Gandhi was the obvious choice. So there was no question of declaring a prime ministerial candidate. Narasimha Rao too was elected unanimously by the CPP. The AICC has, therefore, taken a right decision by not choosing Rahul as the prime ministerial candidate. The decision was already taken the previous night by the working committee. Sonia Gandhi firmly stated there was no need for making Rahul the PM candidate. The time tested convention of the elected MPs choosing their leader should be followed.
Imagine a situation when the Congress leads a coalition (because no party is getting an absolute majority) and partners do not agree to be led by Rahul. It would then be very embarrassing for the Congress leaders, particularly Sonia Gandhi. It was necessary for the BJP to announce a PM candidate because many important leaders, unlike the Congress, may throw hat in the ring after the election. More so, if the BJP emerges as the single largest party to stake its claim to form the government. First would be L K Advani, claiming seniority and experience. Narendra Modi would have said the party has won because of his image and campaign. There are others like Murli Manohar Joshi who think he is of prime ministerial material.
The BJP leadership, in its calculation, has taken a right decision by floating Modi’s name for the top job. If the BJP, after the elections, is in a position to form the government, the tricky issue of choosing a prime minister will pose no problem. Added to this, there is hardly any doubt that Modi has made an impact as a prime ministerial candidate and a section of the people think he deserves a chance to become PM. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address gave the impression as if it was a farewell message. It was his last address at a Congress conclave as PM. He spoke about how his government had not got its due credit for ensuring an average growth of 7.9 per cent over the last nine years despite global recession.
In an oblique reference to governance of Narendra Modi in Gujarat, PM said when people compared his government’s performance with the others, they must bear in mind that it followed an ‘inclusive’ model. He admitted that a major reason for the decline in growth rate was that many infrastructure projects failed to take off when clearance was delayed because of the fear created by the action of Auditor General and the Central Vigilance Commissioner. Expenditure clearance had taken a dig as bureaucrats were hesitant to take decisions, fearing they could come under scrutiny. Referring to corruption Singh admitted some mistakes were committed.
If a majority of delegates were in battle mode, delivering fiery speeches, promising to work hard to ensure that the Congress wins the next elections and Rahul Gandhi become Prime Minister, only two speakers – both from Kerala – struck a cautionary note. The former Speaker of Kerala Assembly, K C Jose, said the party lost Delhi despite an excellent development record because of corruption and price rise. If the Congress did not pay heed to this warning, it would face the consequences in the Lok Sabha elections, too.
His younger colleague, V D Satheesan, MLA in Kerala Assembly and national secretary of the party, too, pointed out that there had been no qualitative discussion in the party to address people’s growing aversion to the political class. The mode of communication had changed, but the Congress was still using outdated political vocabulary. Talking about increase in prices of petroleum products, he said, it was time the party assessed the impact of liberalisation. ‘If a government initiative is not working for the people, it must change.’ IPA