In first durbar, Rahul calls for emotional bonding in party

While concluding a staggered three-day meeting of party office-bearers in New Delhi, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi stressed on the need to go by the rulebook and termed the Congress’s constitution as a “radical document”.

Contrast this with his coronation speech at Jaipur a fortnight back, where he said: “You talked about change. I want to talk about rules and regulations. The Congress party is the world’s biggest political organisation but it does not run by any rules and regulations. Perhaps there is not a single regulation in this party. Every two minutes we make one and bury old ones. Nobody present here knows if Congress has some set rules. It is an interesting organisation. At times I ask myself, Bhaiya, how does this organisation run? So there is a need to frame rules...”

Even on the opening day of his interaction with office-bearers, he talked of the lack of rules and regulations.

Now, of course, his view is different. While there is a feeling of relief in the Congress that the new Vice-President has finally discovered that the party did indeed have a rulebook and regulations, there is also a sense of dismay in certain quarters about how conveniently he changed his stance so quickly.

Rahul Gandhi at the recently-concluded Chintan Shivir. AFP.

Rahul Gandhi at the recently-concluded Chintan Shivir. AFP.

The office-bearers, particularly the younger ones, see a a silver lining in one simple thing – that they got a chance to speak their mind to the extent they possibly could. Rahul’s interaction with a whole lot of office-bearers was initially billed to be a limited affair last Thursday, but it got stretched to Friday and then resumed after a two-day weekend on Monday. Since Rahul gave them the mandate to speak about whatever they thought fit, it unleashed the suppressed feelings of a lot of office-bearers, some mixing their personal grievances with policy issues.

Rahul’s “glasnost “, as some would lovingly call it in the Congress, has however raised a few alarm bells among the old guard, as they feel that if it goes unchecked it will be very difficult to contain voices of dissent at various levels. But then the Vice-President has also spoken of the need to have discipline in the party. The whip could be cracked as and when needed. For now the party is happy to have given nearly 45 office-bearers the chance to speak to the new boss.

Whether Rahul will be able to meet their aspirations or live up to their hopes is another matter.

At the meetings, office-bearers were told to focus on "emotional unity" because the party had missed many opportunities in the past for want of discipline. For the vast mass of Congress workers, emotional unity means unflinching support for and trust in the Nehru-Gandhi family which has kept them going against the odds. As a number of AICC secretaries complained of the lack of work allocation and being ignored by  the party, Rahul chose the occasion to stress the need to develop an emotional chord with party men and treating party workers as family.

The biggest takeout for party workers is that Rahul has expressed his desire to have such candid discussions from the block to the state level. There is a feeling that this is easier said than done, given the sheer numbers involved. Party General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi,  however, put it on record: "Rahul Gandhi said he desires to hold such meetings even at the state level and, if possible, even with party workers at district and block level. As and when a programme is finalised, you will be informed."

Sensing that the dissenting voices heard in the meetings may get hyped up in the media and won't be healthy for the party's image, a senior party functionary is understood have issued a gag order against leaking any information to the press.

However, nothing damaging emerged. And the one underlying point to emerge is that Rahul Gandhi bowed to strong pleas from Congress leaders by agreeing in principle to hold a 'janata durbar'.