The Congress’ Jaipur “declaration” was lost in the hullaballoo over Rahul Gandhi’s “coronation”. It’s for the first time since the Panchmarhi session in 1998 that the declaration was silent on alliances. The political affairs committee headed by A.K. Antony said in its discussion paper that coalition politics was a reality. But party leaders, especially from Bihar and Deepa Dasmunshi from West Bengal put up a stiff opposition to pre-poll alliances, arguing that these were eating into the party’s base. Even Kamal Nath stressed on the need to go it alone in the elections. In 1998, the party had said that coalitions were a passing phase. In 2000, the party passed a resolution accepting coalitions. This was ratified in 2003 by saying that the Congress was ready to lead a coalition government. In 2004, the Congress formed its first coalition government. However, Sonia Gandhi, in her speech said that to remain in power the party needed to have alliances. At the same time she asserted that the party had to be rejuvenated to strike a fine balance. It was also for the first time that the Congress stayed silent on the creation of smaller states. It was also silent on the Indo US nuclear deal. The foreign affairs discussion paper prepared by Anand Sharma did not mention it. But the Prime Minister defended the deal in his speech.
Dr Manmohan Singh was sidelined in Jaipur. UP Congress Committee chief Nirmal Khatri addressed “Rahulji, Soniaji” but forgot to mention the Prime Minister. Vyalar Ravi raised the issue of rising prices in front of the PM himself. Mani Shankar Aiyar asked whether India was a socialist country or a capitalist country. Dr Singh looked a lonely man on the dais as no one supported his reforms, particularly FDI in multi-brand retail.
Pitroda is guru
Sam Pitroda is emerging as Rahul Gandhi’s political guide and philosopher. Rahul confided to him the decision to accept the number two position in the Congress during his seven-day stay at Pitroda’s Chicago residence ahead of the Jaipur meeting. Pitroda was telling him for a while that it was time he took charge. But the Gandhi scion would always reply that there was no rush, that he still had ten years in hand. At this Pitroda would say that he was 70 years old and wanted to see Rahul at the helm of the party in his lifetime. Once the decision was taken, the two of them worked together on Rahul’s Jaipur speech. The emotional bits were added by Rahul; the rest of the inputs were from Pitroda, who sat in the media enclosure to capture the response to the speech.
Insiders berate outsiders
The Chintan Shivir discussion on how to rejuvenate the Congress witnessed heated arguments between old timers and the migratory birds who are now settled in the party. Janardan Dwivedi suggested that there should be a cooling period of at least three years before a newcomer is given a position of power in the party or government. At this, Madhusudan Mistry, an AICC general secretary, who recently joined the party with Sankarsinh Vaghela, shot back, “Then how will people come to the Congress?” Naseeb Pathan, an MLC from Uttar Pradesh, charged Mistry of being an RSS man. When the argument got heated, P. Chidambaram tried to pacify the two. But Pathan suddenly turned around and asked the Finance Minister on which party ticket he contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2004. At this, Vilas Muttemwar, an MP from Maharashtra, quipped that Chidambaram was like the mobile SIM card, it would operate in any mobile. All this took place in front of Rahul Gandhi. Later, Muttemwar explained to journalists that he did not mean Chidambaram, and that his was a general comment about all those who entered the party and then became Finance Minister and Home Minister. It’s not known whether Muttemwar’s tongue was firmly planted in his cheek.
know your Rahul
Rahul Gandhi will no longer be an enigma. His image builders are planning his interaction with the media where he will answer all the unanswered questions. In fact, they already have the answers. Will Rahul get married? Unlikely, as he has vowed to dedicate his life to the party. He also does not want his loved ones to go through any trauma similar to the one that he went through after the assassinations of his grandmother and father. People in Delhi may think that Rahul goes to meet his girlfriend every now and then when he vanishes from the city, but he actually goes to Burma to meditate. He had gone there just before going to Chicago and decided that he would take up the reins of the party. So is he a Buddhist? He is a voracious reader. He was educated in Harvard under a fake name as the then United States government refused to give the guarantee for his safety if he went there under his real name. He is different from his mother: she believes in status quo, he in change; she believes in the welfare state, he is pro-reform. He was reluctant to take the final plunge until now because he did not want to disturb Manmohan Singh. Now that the elections are just a year away, he has decided to take up the challenge. He is ready to become the Prime Minister in 2014 if the party comes to power. He will not do a Sonia Gandhi.
Rahul Gandhi was supposed to deliver his Chintan Shivir speech in Jaipur at 3.10 p.m. last Sunday. About 20 minutes before he went out and asked his mother to come out. After a few minutes, Manmohan Singh too was summoned.
Once outside, he was given Rahul’s speech to read. But Singh had forgotten to bring his reading glasses, so the SPG got him his glasses. Once he finished reading the speech, all three went inside and Rahul delivered his speech right on time.
A fight in Trinamool
A major fight has broken out among some Trinamool Congress leaders. Mamata Banerjee’s blue-eyed boy, Rajya Sabha member Kunal Ghosh was thrown out of the office of Pratidin newspaper by its staffers last week. Ghosh, who used to be the deputy editor of Pratidin, was told that his service had been terminated. The newspaper is owned by Trinamool’s Tutu Bose and his son Srinjoy Bose, the party’s Rajya Sabha member. Tension between Srinjoy Bose and Kunal Ghosh has been rising over a period of time, and various allegations had been levelled against the latter. The immediate reason was the campaign unleashed by Ghosh holding the father-son duo responsible for the three-year ban imposed on the Mohun Bagan football club by the All India Football Federation. Tutu Bose is the president of Mohun Bagan, Srinjoy is the vice president and Ghosh is looking for a foothold in the club. It is believed that before sacking Ghosh, the father-son duo had taken the CM into confidence. But soon after, during Mamata’s trip to Jangalmahal, Ghosh was by her side.
At a recent rally in Jangalmahal, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke for a full three hours, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. She spoke on everything under the sun. At one point she said that she was opposed to foreign direct investment, but not to foreigners. To prove her point she pointed to former football star Bidesh Basu, who was present on the dais and said, “Ei je, dekhte pachchen, ekhane boshe ache (Do you see Bidesh Basu sitting here).” Bidesh means foreign. And then at 6 p.m., she suddenly said, “I understand that you have come from far flung areas so I should now wrap up.”