Cong Chintan Shivir: PM plays wronged hero, Rahul, a rebel

5.40pm: We need new leaders. We need to weed out hypocrites, because the country is not naive and will not buy it anymore. We need to listen to what a young, restless country wants to tell us. We can't remain behind closed doors and pretend that we are doing a good job of running a country of hundred billion. No, you probably did not expect a newly crowned vice president of a party, with its back hurtling towards the wall, to say  this in his maiden speech.

But Rahul Gandhi did.

And we might have to give him that - accepting shortcomings is not a favourite in the country's or even his party's political discourse. It might have been a clever attempt at rebuffing the dynastic politicking allegations he is faced with, but it was an impressive one. At least an impressively worded one. For once, these were lines that you wanted to hear or maybe didn't cringe hearing. It was not a metallic, loud rhetoric that is a favourite with the politicians here - it was the closest that one could come to sounding earnest. And Rahul Gandhi deserves a brownie point or two for that.

5.10pm: Preceding the overtly emotional conclusion of his speech, Rahul played the rebel leader with great pomp. After gloating over how the Congress had fought with non-violence to drive the British out and that the party still follows Gandhiji's example, Gandhi at first, recounted all that is considered achievements in Congress' books - the Green Revolution, bank nationalising, IT revolution, economic liberalisation and the latest RTI and RTE.

He then went on to admit that the nation was far from happy with the Congress. And he spoke, well, like a university student leader would asking all known structures of governance to be brought down and reconstructed. With little hint as to how. Had that violin-and-drums AR Rahman-ish track in background not gone missing, you could have forgotten you are hearing a real politician speak, not a good looking bloke playing one in a Rang De Basanti-type film.

"The voices of a million people are telling us that they want a greater say in the governance of the country. They are telling us that they no more want a closed system managed by a handful of people. A system that robs people of their voices, that dis-empowers them.

"Why is the youth angry today, why have they come out on the streets demanding the government act. Becuase, their concerns have to be addressed by people who whizz past them in cars with beacons and don't bother to react. The tragedy of India is, we don't respect knowledge, we respect position. However wise you are, unless you have position, you mean nothing," he hollered. Now, this self deprecating stance could have been very helpful, if Gandhi junior had suggested ways to include 'knowledge' in the political narrative in the country. Like usual, he didn't. He in fact said, "I'll hear what you say and echo your thoughts. I will not be the lawyer, I'll be the judge," he added.

He also talked about how the most corrupt talk about weeding out corruption. That's some very severe self appraisal one might say, but the statement, came more as a dig at the Opposition's allegations of corruption against the Congress.

The system needs to be cleansed thoroughly, he said. The Congress, needs to follow laws within the party, there is a dire need of discipline in it. In what we would consider less self criticism and more of political suicide, he even wondered aloud: "There is no law within the party. Today there is one law we follow, tomorrow we trash it and make a new one. God knows how we win elections."

The came his solution: revolutionary building blocks, like he said. While you waited for him to spell some magic. Here's what he referred to: Roads and communication. Roads and communication systems which enable and promote good business and hence boost the economy. You didn't know that from your high school business knowledge, did you?

4.45pm: Widely criticised for lack of touch with its people, Congress Vice President Gandhi played a hitherto unexplored trick in the book of politics. Rahul presented himself, not with the confidence of a politician, who seems has inherited a party and a country's government in heirloom, but as dreamer, someone in touch with his fears, scarred by deaths and failure, yet strangely hopeful. Only, the country he is talking to, the 'system' is itching to mend, wouldn't really heal with poetry!

"I woke up today morning and thought about my journey. When I was a little boy, I used to play badminton, because it gave me a sense of balance. One fine morning, as I was playing badminton and my grandmother was out on her morning walk, her bodyguards killed her. I lost my balance in life. My father, then, was equally terrified, confused and in shock. But he had to address a nation, which was then considered poor and hopeless a few days later. He did. Despite that grief. And he took charge of the nation..." Rahul said in the dripping-drama conclusion of his speech.

Had he been talking to college girls still wallowing in Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff, the Gandhi scion would come across as no less than a superstar. Sadly, he went to to prove with his maiden speech, what critics have been repeatedly pointing out - that Rahul talks like a dream, asks people to dream and probably himself never steps out of the dreamland where lives can be fixed with two pretty words. Gandhi didn't announce a plan of action in concrete terms, he neither demonstrated a pithy understanding of the government's policies. But then he said this:

"After I was made the VP of the party, people streamed in to congratulate me. Then my mother came in today morning. And she wept. Why? Because she knows that power is poison and she has seen it in its worst. So, all I want to say is, that with power, we shouldn't forget the responsibility that come with it. I have known it my life."

Bollywood scriptwriters, cringe at yourselves!

4.30pm: Following the Prime Minister's feeble attempt to attack the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi, the newly-anointed Vice President of the Congress stunned the nation with fiery, rebel leader rhetoric - reflective, self critical, tragic, with the perfect punchlines, and yes, hold on, did we also sense some poetry in there too?

In his best, Shakesperean hero-esque, in his worst, straight out of a Prakash Jha film, Rahul mixed personal anecdotes with down-with-the-system revolutionary metaphors, in his first speech as the party's Vice President. And it would take a cynic of the highest order to sense Rahul dazzled with words.

Yes, with words. Apart from mere mentions of the same old RTE, RTI, FDI and direct cash transfer schemes, Rahul Gandhi's speech was beautiful, shimmering rhetoric, not at all a political resolution with teeth and claws!

1.00pm: Strangely enough, it was as if the Congress had urged Manmohan Singh to lead the attack against the BJP and opposition at the summit wrap-up. Singh's speech almost sounded like a poll manifesto in its expanse as he talked about everything from RTI to nuke deals in one breath.

He also, quite uncharacteristically, launched a direct attack on the former NDA governments in attempt to salvage their own. "During the NDA's six year rule, the GDP growth of the country was just 5.7 percent. In our eight years, the GDP growth has been more than 8 percent. Poverty has decreased at a rate 2.5 times greater than it had in the NDA's time. Why are people not talking about our achievements? Because we didn't go out and tell them that we have done so many things for them, an opportunity the Opposition used to their benefit," said Singh.

Singh also added that India doesn't intend to go soft on the Pakistan issue. "We want friendly relations with Pakistan, but it can't be a one-way process. They have to make concrete efforts too. We have told them that the barbaric act that their army has perpetrated will affect our relations," he said.

12.15pm: Manmohan Singh played the tragic, wronged hero to the hilt at the Congress summit wrap-up blaming 'mis-communication' and conniving non-Congress states as the reason behind the deep public resent that the government is up against. While Sonia Gandhi had said that the party badly needs to win back people's faith, Singh followed it up with his version of why the Congress has its back against the wall.

"We have kept most of the promises we made to the public. However, since we didn't go out and beat our own drums, people in the country are under the impression that we have done nothing. Also, states where the Congress is not in power, have gone all out to malign us claiming that all the policies that the poor and the farmers are benefitting from are theirs. When in the reality, all those policies have been framed by us for the benefit of the poor," he added. Not sure if Mamata Banerjee is tuned it, but there's little doubt who tops Congress' hate list!

11am: Sonia Gandhi also tried addressing issues of women's safety, following the gang-rape incident in Delhi. To the echo of her previous statements, Gandhi added a few lines condemning public figures who have made thoughtless derogatory statements against women following the incident.

"People are right demanding action from the government. We have taken several measures to boost women's safety in the country. The Delhi gang-rape victim embodied the spirit of aspirational India. Tragically, she embodied the kind of violence that thousands of women and children in India, suffer every day. Their lives are ruined and they are denied justice," she said.

She added that the government has made amendments in an existing law to endure equal inheritance rights for women and has introduced new laws meant to protect women from domestic violence and sexual harassment at work.

10.55am: Though the Congress chief refused to make references to the allegations of corruption against the government, she brought up the issue in a round-about way, in a cunning attempt to address growing public resentment yet not admitting the party's failings. Again, the way Sonia Gandhi went all gung-ho against corruption in the system and misuse of position by ministers, she was almost reminiscent of Rahul Gandhi's speech a few months back, which blamed the 'system' for corruption - as if the speaker and the party were not essentially parts of the same system they seemed to be denouncing.

"Corruption is a deep-seated malaise. We are resolved to fight against it. That is why we have passed the Lokpal Bill in the last Lok Sabha session. We have introduced the 'aapka paisa, aapke haath' direct cash transfer scheme to weed out middle-men from the system," she announced. She also emphasised that the government will make the process of 'allocation of natural resources' far more transparent. With the coal block and 2G blot starting to dig the party's grave, it was but natural that the chief tries of make a last ditch attempt at saving Congress from it.

10.50am: Sonia's defence of the FDI and the price hike moves was almost identically-worded to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's earlier explanations of the government's policies. "When the rest of the world was reeling under the economic slowdown, India was hardly affected. To make sure that the safeguards to our economy remain intact, we have had to take some difficult decisions. They might cause some temporary hardships to people, but will be rewarding for all in the long run," said Gandhi.

10.40pm: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, summing up the Chintan Shivir meet, said that it was time to look inwards and reflect on the party and its principles. Significantly, while addressing the meet in Hindi, she admitted that there was a pressing need to win back people's faith in the government, thereby acknowledging the growing public dissent that the party is up against. "We have to win back people's faith and keep reinventing our policies," said Gandhi.

10.30pm: Besides setting stage for Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the Congress declared its Pakistan strategy. "Dialogue with Pakistan must be based on accepted priniciples of civilised behaviour. When these principles are violated, India should not hesitate to take credible action," came the Congress announcement.

Sonia Gandhi at the Chintan Shivir. PTI.

Congress acknowledged the fact that there is a rising educated and aspirational middle class, especially in urban areas. The party assured that they will  continue to create new opportunities for them.

The party chief also exhorted "All secular and progressive forces to unite in an ideological battle against those who polarise and divide society."

Sonia Gandhi also express concern about the structure of her own party and said that it was time for some reflection. "Nepotism in the organisation's structure is a cause of concern. When leaders recommend a candidate they must be willing to take responsibility in case of failure," she said.

With inputs from PTI