Rahul Gandhi‘s coronation speech as Congress’ vice-president gave clear hints that while he may have been officially or emotionally designated as Number Two, he would be the de-facto Number One. His mother, Congress President, Sonia Gandhi will be the patron, who would love to see him exercise all powers that lakhs of Congress workers had bestowed upon her for so long. He was not going to be just the face but also the final court of appeal: “I will be the judge not the lawyer,” he said earlier today.
If he claimed innocence of an “eight-year” old beginner in politics, he also sought to impress his party and the voting public that he was not a novice; he had learnt the tricks of the trade faster and in times to come he would unfold his plan “transform the system”. He was not content to just look at ways to better the system because “there was no system” in place. “Decisions were taken behind close doors by few empowered people who did not represent the will of the masses…mediocrity dominated all round…” — good compassionate words that were music to a majority of over 1500 delegates gathered at the AICC conclave in Jaipur.
Like his father Rajiv Gandhi, he claimed the innocence of a youthful outsider, elevated to the position of command but felt frustrated by the prevailing system of client-patron and it was thus his duty to correct it. He was out to sell a dream to his own party men in particular. He sprinkled his maiden speech as vice-president with many personal anecdotes of tragic family events. How his mother, Sonia who had gone through the emotional grind wept in relative isolation of his hotel room because she perceived power as poison.
“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.” He also spoke of how he woke at 4 am and went onto the balcony, in the dark and cold, when he decided to speak what he felt, also of hope, not what they wanted to hear.
For the Congress workers his speech clicked, as mid way into his speech he got a standing ovation from the audience and those at the dais. His mother’s grim face and moist eyes added whatever was left to bind them to him, as the man who would shape their destiny and of that of the Grand Old Party of Indian politics.
He is a self proclaimed seeker of knowledge, understanding and compassion. “Yes I am optimistic, I am not a pessimist.” He thanked his mother, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party for the building blocks that helped him transform the system.
Rahul Gandhi‘s problem is not his speech or intent but his delivery and track record in supposed transformations that he has so far carried out. His democratisation of youth Congress, selection of youth who became MPs and MPs who became ministers of state and further elevated to Independent charge or Cabinet rank mostly have a rich dynastic lineage. This perpetuates further, instead of reinforcing his vision of equality and democracy.
The prevalent ills that he talked about in ticket distribution, where an outsider would paratroop at the time of elections and then fly out after losing it had all been there in last year’s Uttar Pradesh elections where he was directly at the helm. The Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj Party rebels and turn coats were welcomed with open arms and most regular workers, whoever were left in the state, were not considered worthwhile in ticket distribution and kept at arms length even during the heat of campaigning in Uttar Pradesh.
It did boost morale of the party men when he said workers should be respected and leaders at all levels, in the government and organization should open up beyond their chosen few to listen to them. “Learn to praise your colleague, respect knowledge and understanding” was his mantra to them. “Even those who were corrupt spoke of eradicating corruption”, he said drawing a similar parallel to criminal politicians.
Today he spoke like a management consultant suggesting remedies to transform the system in a party, “we have to build 40-50 leaders who will run the country, 5-10 in every state anyone of whom can rule that state.”
The promises that he made were good to generate hope among those gathered who believed in him as their leader and religiously kept chanting for him throughout the day inside or outside but his test lies in delivery, not just for the Congress party but much beyond that to the people at large if UPA3 has to come into existence after 2014 polls.
Pitted against him would be the BJP strongman Narendra Modi. The prospects are of huge electoral excitement.