IN THE past 10 days, new Congress Vice- President Rahul Gandhi has visited the party headquarters four times. His immediate agenda has been to learn the workings of the organisation better. One of the main items on the agenda has been to allay the fears of the seniors, those considered close to Sonia Gandhi, such as Motilal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Janardhan Dwivedi, that they will be pensioned off. Rahul is banking on a blend of youth and experience to take the party forward.
He has held meetings with the general secretaries, state in-charges, secretaries and frontal organisation chiefs. The issues have mainly consisted of organisation building and the party’s pressing needs in every state. The tussle between the party and the government has also found mention in these meetings. Rahul is meeting familiar faces but he is clear he wants to set new priorities for the party.
Creating a leadership in the states figures high in Rahul’s priorities. The thinking is that the party should have strong local leaders who can take on regional satraps. In many non-Congress states, they have to rely on tours by Sonia and Rahul for galvanising the cadres. The idea is that the central leadership should be used sparingly for state polls.
Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan are prime examples. In Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is capable of taking on the Opposition; the central leadership only tours the state as a formality. Same is the case in Himachal Pradesh where Virbhadra Singh does the task. In Rajasthan, it is the duo of Ashok Gehlot and CP Joshi. This is lacking in states like Madhya Pradesh — where there are many potential choices but not one designated face — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Odisha and West Bengal.
The plan is to ask state in-charges to pick 15 prospective leaders in the age group of 30-50 years. A shortlist will be sent to Rahul, who will discuss this with the central leaders. Those selected will be given bigger roles at the state level.
Interestingly, Rahul also wants to experiment in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. A list of all the seats where the Congress has lost in the past three consecutive polls is being made. After which, another scan will be done to check whether the Congress has a strong candidate for these seats or not. The idea is to identify about 100 such seats in which Youth Congress leaders will contest. Some of these seats may include Lucknow, Rampur, Amritsar, Indore, Patna, and Gautam Budh Nagar, commonly known as Noida.
Manicka Tagore, Ashok Tanwar and Meenakshi Natarajan are success stories of this experiment, which was done on a small scale in 2009. They were asked to contest elections against stalwarts. Tagore defeated MDMK chief Vaiko from Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu. Natarajan defeated the BJP’s Lakshmi Narayan Pandey from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh; Pandey had been winning the seat since 1971. Tanwar defeated the INLD candidate from Sirsa, which is the hometown of the INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala.
The morale of the NSUI and Youth Congress is high after Rahul’s elevation. The news that they will be given more Lok Sabha tickets has enthused them.
RAHUL IS also planning to ensure better communication within the party rank and file. Technology is going to play an important factor. Sam Pitroda, adviser to the prime minister on public infrastructure and innovations, is advising Rahul in this endeavour. The plan is to connect all Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters with the party war room through video conferencing. This will ensure that local leaders are also in touch with the strategists. Not only will they be giving real-time inputs, they will also have a fair idea about what the high command has in mind.
There is a feeling that all decisions and strategies of the Congress are top down with little or no input from the ground level. Rahul is insistent that Block Congress Committees (BCC) and District Congress Committees (DCC) should play a greater role. It has been a constant refrain that the AICC’s view is not percolating down to the BCC. So with the advent of this connectivity, the party’s views will be known to the entire rank and file. Frontal organisations like the Mahila Congress, Youth Congress, NSUI and Seva Dal will also be connected. This will help in bringing the entire party on the same page.
A new group to tackle social media challenges is also in the works. A communication sub-group has been set up, which will submit its recommendations in the second week of February. Rahul is keen that the party’s views are visible on various social platforms. Many Congress leaders such as Digvijaya Singh and Shakeel Ahmed are already active on Twitter. Information & Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari and Minister of State for Home RPN Singh will be more visible on the platform in the coming days. All this is a bid to get the party viewpoint across.
Even at the Chintan Shivir in Jaipur, a discussion on social media came up. At the moment, the strategy is restricted to leaders airing the views of the Congress and the government rather than a battery of consultants doing the job. Blogging will also be treated seriously. Many leaders feel that blogs are more effective than tweets. However, some leaders feel that tweets and blogs find resonance only among the urban voters. The rural voters, a strong base for the Congress, are not concerned about the social media.
A programme called Anubhav will also be started. This will include regular interaction between the senior party leaders and Youth Congress members. The party feels this will help in reducing the gap between the three generations within the party. There is a feeling of insecurity within the senior leaders that with the coming of age of the new generation, the old guard will be rendered useless. This interaction will help them groom young leaders and also stay relevant in the current scheme of things.
‘Performance, not patronage’ is Rahul’s new slogan. The usual complaint is that recommendations are given more weightage during ticket distribution than the candidate’s merit. Though there is an elaborate process in place, including a screening and central election committees, recommendations play a big role. The change that Rahul proposes is that the person who recommends someone should also be mentioned along with the proposed candidate’s name. If the candidate loses, then the person who had recommended him should be held accountable.
Rahul has been made a member of the core group that acts as a bridge between the party and the government. The group also takes a final view on the party’s political decisions. This will help him understand the problems faced in running a government. Many thought that Rahul’s elevation would see drastic changes in the Congress. But it is not going to be so, as he is inclined to tread carefully.