Rahul campaign head, Congress talks of Lok Sabha victory
The ruling Congress Friday sought to energize its cadre for the challenges ahead in the Lok Sabha election by appointing Rahul Gandhi as head of its campaign, but stopped short of naming him as a prime ministerial candidate. And with combative speeches, particularly by the Gandhi scion, the Congress delivered the message that it was aiming at nothing short of victory in the "tough battle ahead".
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, party vice president Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about the party's resilience in times of adversity at the All India Congress Committee meeting at the Talkatora Stadium here and sought to lift the party from its sense of despondency following the drubbing in assembly polls to four states.
The party decided not to declare Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate in an apparent strategic move, saying it went against its tradition and the country's constitution. But it clearly projected him as the "leader of the future" who would take the top executive position if the party was in a position to form the government.
A charged Rahul Gandhi spoke with considerable passion to an enthusiastic audience that was cheering him since morning.
Congress leaders admitted the party's lapses in projecting the United Progressive Alliance government's achievements but expressed confidence that the party can retrieve the lost ground in the next few months.
By the end of the meeting, Sonia Gandhi said the party workers were brimming with energy and the "worry that engulfed it for the past few days was unnecessary".
"We are ready for the challenge of the future. If we decide, we can achieve anything through discipline and unity. We should go from here keep future challenges in mind so that we are victorious in the struggle."
The meeting saw efforts by Congress leaders to reach out to the youth, with almost 68 percent of population estimated to be below the age of 35. They also spoke of women, weaker sections and the common man.
Rahul Gandhi, who analysts admitted had rarely spoken with such passion and combativeness, said that "change" was taking place in the country and the Congress needs to meet the aspirations of the common man, who want a "fair deal".
"This is not just another election to be fought. This is a turning point for India and no one is willing to compromise."
Rahul Gandhi asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seated a few feet away, to increase the annual cap on subsidized cooking gas cylinders from 9 to 12 per household.
He called for the passage of six anti-corruption bills in parliament within three months, saying the opposition would do its best to stop their passage.
He advocated the need to give more representation to women in politics.
Gandhi made a veiled attack on BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, saying "democracy is not rule by dictate, by one man".
He ended his 42-minute address saying there was a "tough battle ahead" for the party and "we'll go into battle as warriors with head held high" and "will not stop till the battle is won".
Sonia Gandhi, in her opening remarks, said the "divisive" ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party would only end up dividing the country.
She said the April-May Lok Sabha election would be "a battle for India" and its secular traditions.
"We meet today to send a clear signal that the Congress is ready and prepared for the battle ahead."
Party workers raised slogans demanding that Rahul Gandhi be named the prime ministerial candidate but Sonia Gandhi made it clear that there will be no rethink on the party's decision not to do so.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the UPA government had not been given due credit for its successes.
Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said he was putting forth a "radical idea" that the Congress should field 272 candidates below the age of 35 in the Lok Sabha polls.
(Posted on 17-01-2014)