Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rahul slips into Sonia’s shoes

NEW DELHI, March 7, 2013

Streamline the party organisation and put in place a system that will bridge the communication and coordination deficit, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi told central office-bearers here on Wednesday evening.

In the next fortnight, he added, he intended bringing together PCC chiefs, CLP leaders, and central general secretaries and secretaries in charge of States for a discussion, even as some senior functionaries suggested holding conventions in States where the Congress is in power to publicise the UPA government's flagship programmes and dharnas in the Opposition-ruled States.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Gandhi met party MPs from Madhya Pradesh as part of a series of discussions he is holding daily with parliamentarians from different States. The focus at this meeting was on the party working concertedly to oust the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh in the Assembly elections later this year and ensuring that the Congress received the credit for Centrally sponsored welfare schemes being implemented in the State.

The transition of power in the Congress is taking place gradually as its less than two-month-old vice-president has begun to take regular meetings with the organisation's functionaries and MPs, presiding over meetings that the party president — and his mother — Sonia Gandhi held till recently.

But the paradox is that while Mr. Gandhi is seen to be leading from the front in a bid to strengthen, energise and democratise the Congress, on Tuesday, he told MPs and journalists that becoming Prime Minister was not his priority as he believed in "long-term politics" — he wanted to empower everyone. He said he wanted to focus on strengthening his party ahead of next year's general elections.

"Today I see how MPs feel without power and it is the same story in all the parties, be it the Congress or BJP," he had said. "I want to empower the 720-odd MPs in Parliament … I want to give voice to the middle tier … There are some parties in India which are run by one leader (BSP), two leaders (SP), five or six leaders (BJP) and 15 to 20 leaders (Congress). My priority is … to empower the MPs as also the 5,000-odd legislators in various States."

If Wednesday's meeting of Madhya Pradesh MPs focussed on the Assembly elections, the discussion with central office-bearers concluded with Mr. Gandhi saying the communication and coordination gap could be bridged only through regular interactions and with party functionaries regularly touring those parts of the country they are in charge of.

Earlier this week, he met MPs from Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. At the Haryana meeting, indiscipline and groupism dominated the conversation, with some MPs complaining about Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. MPs Ishwar Singh, Avtar Singh Bhadana, Birender Singh and Shruti Chaudhary flagged the need to take all sections in the party together.

Concern was raised over continuance of crimes against Dalits in Haryana. Mr. Ishwar Singh, who raised the issue, told Mr. Gandhi that Dalits were the backbone of the party and their disenchantment with the Congress would damage its prospects. There was also an almost unanimous demand by the MPs from both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha for immediate appointment of a full-time PCC chief.

At their meeting, Tamil Nadu MPs pointed to the vote coming up in the United Nations on human rights violations in Sri Lanka, an issue politically sensitive in the State.

Delhi MPs discussed the reasons behind the party's rout in the municipal elections last year, despite its winning all seven Lok Sabha seats in 2009. West Delhi MP Mahabal Mishra demanded greater representation for migrants in the party organisation as their population had increased substantially in the capital.
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