The Congress Chintan Shivir, presently in progress at Jaipur’s Birla auditorium, is a coronation of the heir apparent of the party, Rahul Gandhi, for all intents and purposes.
All the signs are in place. The Delhi-Jaipur highway is dotted with posters and banners put up by the Indian Youth Congress. Rahul Gandhi’s face is on all of them, smiling down at the passers-by.
The same arrangement is in place in the city of Jaipur, which has been spruced up for the purpose of presenting a good image before the representatives of the party in power assembling to brainstorm their way out of the morass the party finds itself in, a year before the 2014 general elections. However, civic officials say that the beautification process is routine, according to local media reports.
All around the venue, right next to the statue of Sawai Jai Singh, and close to the Central Park, hardly any other leader is on any of the posters or banners, except Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who share the space with the Congress scion in a few.
Around half of the total delegates are from the Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India — 160 out of approximately 350. This shows Rahul Gandhi’s clout, as earlier the percentage of youth delegates in similar conclaves was much lower. Rahul Gandhi has been working closely with these two organisations and he started the practice of internal elections to elect their members. This has been seen as an attempt to democratise them.
Before the announcement was made on Saturday evening that Rahul Gandhi would be made the party’s vice president the demand was growing that he should lead the party more obviously, and assume a definite role in the party organisation. His supporters wanted him to don a formal responsibility. Privately, when asked about it, senior leaders maintained that Rahul Gandhi was already Number 2 in the party, after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, as his name figured at serial Number 2 in the list of leaders who helm the party’s newly configured Election Co-ordination Committee, but the subtlety was lost on the activists of the party. According to Raj Kumar Chauhan, 38, state co-ordinator of the party’s OBC cell, Rahul Gandhi “should assume the position of Secretary-General or Working President.” “He (Rahul Gandhi) should come forward. It will create an atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm. The youth will play a big role under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi,” he added, sipping tea at a road-side stall.
The maximum cheers were reserved for Rahul Gandhi when the names of the leaders present on the dais were read out. When party president Sonia Gandhi mentioned in her address that the Congress was conscious of the youth demographic being the new reality of the nation, people cheered again, but the Gandhi scion chose not to address the audience.
Others, like the elderly Harendra Singh Rathod, were more cautious when speaking of Rahul Gandhi assuming a formal responsibility. “If the Congress Working Committee feels so, he should get it. A balance should be struck between youth and experience,” said Rathod, one of the 125 members of the Congress Seva Dal, taking care of the minutiae of the entire exercise.
The Seva Dal members are ubiquitous, in their all-white uniforms and Gandhi topi, spread out all over the venue. Some help the journalists navigate their way inside the impressive media centre with 40 computers for journalists to file their copies. Others man the entries and exits inside the auditorium.
“We also prevent our workers from gate-crashing the venue,” said Narendra Goud, spokesperson of the Seva Dal volunteers. Their duties include helping AICC leaders find their way in the city and adjusting in the accommodations provided by the party. While 25 volunteers came down from Delhi to help, the rest all belong to Rajasthan.
Others, like an Aligarh based Muslim group and a caste-based organisation were also planning to gate-crash the venue to protest certain actions or lack of them on part of the state government, which belongs to the Congress, headed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
However, the police made sure that no one who was not authorised could come anywhere close to the venue by barricading all the roads that led to it. While a senior police officer refused to divulge the exact number of police personnel deployed, he stated: “We do not anticipate any trouble.”