New Delhi: The Congress, it appears, is finally getting into election mode. Hitting out at her allies at the AICC meet in New Delhi, Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi on Saturday asked her partymen to assert their identity and not get lost in coalition politics.
But with a weak organisation and near non-existence in a crucial state, it remains to be seen if the party can really weave magic.
Why does Sonia Gandhi want to assert an independent political identity for the Congress vis-à-vis its allies and vis-à-vis the Left? Is that really possible in this age of coalition politics?
"Why not?" asks Veerappa Moily, Congress General Secretary and spokesperson. "If there is an idea of India, it is only with the National Congress. The party has a vision and a perspective of India. And it always addresses the sensitivities or regional sentiments."
Almost 10 years back at the Panchmarhi Resolution, the Congress had said that it would go it alone and it would not go in for allies. Since then, India has had the formation of the UPA and the Congress is facing all kinds of coalition compulsions.
Under the circumstances, how can the Congress go on its own in the next election? And if it does, can the party really assert its identity in states like Bihar and UP?
According to Moily, that's not really the message from Sonia Gandhi. "The Congress is trying to send out the message that the independent identity of the party will always be maintained. We have not said there is no alternative to having a government of its own. Coalition has to be there. We are not against it," Moily says.
Interestingly, in the draft political resolution, Mrs Gandhi spoke out about those who are apologists for the LTTE, indicating that the DMK, perhaps in some way, was being singled out. She also seemed to be speaking about an independent foreign policy, indicating that the Left is being singled out.
To many, this sounded as if the Congress is increasingly becoming impatient with the compulsions of coalition politics?
Moily denies there is any such impatience in the party. "But we can't forgive and forget the incident where our beloved Rajiv Gandhi was killed by the LTTE. That's why the message is, that we will not be tolerant on terrorism. The idea is to have zero tolerance level as far as terrorism is concerned. We will be firm on that.
What was clear from the AICC session is that Sonia Gandhi is definitely making the Congress battle-ready, maybe an indication that the country is heading for mid-term election.
Moily denies that the AICC session was called for that. "There are a number of challenges and opportunities, which have to be addressed. In a coalition environment, any political party in this country and even in states needs to be vigilant and alert to face elections at any point of time," he points out.
Party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, too, voices a similar opinion. "Any political party must be ready for any eventuality and the Congress president has clearly said that time and time again. Having said that, AICC sessions are held at very regular intervals. It's a symposium where you conduct a dialogue, as opposed to monologue, with party workers. And that's exactly the signal that was sent out today in terms of what the government policies are," he says.
Scindia won't accept that AICC sessions have degenerated into talking shops. He says it was a constructive dialogue and it is something that is held consistently within the party forum.
"The PM and Mrs Gandhi clearly articulated the party's policies and the party's stand on various issues and also heard from grassroots workers in terms of what the issues were in the ground," he points out.
Is Congress ready to empower the youth?
There is a whole new breed of young leaders along with 'heir apparent' Rahul Gandhi waiting to take charge of the Congress party. On Saturday, Rahul Gandhi even took the centrestage and spoke about the party becoming more meritocratic.
Is it a signal of a new spring in the Congress steps? How much can be made out of the Rahul factor? Is India going to see a new leadership in the Congress led by him?
Jyotiraditya Scindia says the Congress is already seeing a lot of that change happen, be it within the Cabinet or in the party's organisational structure. "Not only the secretaryship, but also in terms of various committees that people are now a part of. It's unfair to say that no such changes have happened. So we are seeing those think tank involved, we are seeing those perceptions involved."
And empowerment? Scindia insists that it will come with time. "There is something to be said for experience. These things can't happen with the snap of a finger. I don't see why the rush is there on your part when all of us are ready to wait our turn in terms of experience and then coming on board when we are adequately experienced," he counters.
Does the same logic apply to Rahul Gandhi too? Or is he going to play a more active role?
At the moment, Rahul Gandhi's public interventions have been rather limited and controversial — be it on khadi, or be it on the Tribal Bill. Moreover, one doesn't really get to see the young guard coming into the field, giving the feeling that the older guard is unwilling to truly empower the youth. To boot, the Youth Congress doesn't even have proper elections.
Scindia denies that has been the case. "Look across the board at the number of tickets that are being given to the youth across states, not only in Parliamentary elections but also in Assembly elections," he points out
He says there is a clear thinking within the party on this issue. Scindia also claims the Congress on a comparative basis is the only party in the country which actually encourages youth. "But there is a certain time and momentum that these things take and at the end of the day, we will see the change happen," he adds.
The catch is, will the Congressmen who are 60-plus be willing to give space to those who are 40-plus? According to Veerappa Moily, "There is no competitive politics within the Congress. Only time is our competitor. You have to respond to time. This is the youngest country and the Congress has to respond to these kind of changes."
Why then in a country where 65 per cent of people are below the age of 35, that complexion is not reflected in the Cabinet? Why don't we see Congress becoming a younger party?
Moily reiterates that the Congress doesn't really have such problems. He points out that the party president has already constituted a committee to look into the future challenges and opportunities, where Moily is the chairman and people like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Rahul Gandhi are included.
"This means we are responding to the time and the requirement and aspirations of young people in India. It's just a process. It's just a matter of time before they get into the ministry and organisational positions," he states.
And till that happens, the Congress can remain an ageing party. Or will it?
Scindia claims that the Congress has always empowered youth. "It has always done so — be it during Rajivji's generation or in today's Soniaji's time or Rahulji's time. It is a party which has always been open for change. Now, that change has to come with experience. And we must learn to value that. It's very important to have that experience before you get into a position of power."