The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dress rehearsal under duress

New Delhi, Aug. 21: Rahul Gandhi is the future of the Congress: this is the message that went out of Talkatora Stadium.

Proposing a resolution in memory of Rajiv Gandhi a day after his 60th birth anniversary, party leader Priya Ranjan Das Munshi told the former Prime Minister’s son: “My dear Rahul, the nation is looking at you.”

The heir apparent was seated below the podium in a section reserved for ministers and senior functionaries attending the AICC session.

Master of ceremonies Janardhan Dwivedi said a “very important” message from Elections 2004 was Rahul’s debut not just in politics but in Parliament. “That is a pointer to the future,” he concluded.

A delegate from Uttaranchal wanted Rahul to be made general secretary while a leader from Uttar Pradesh wanted him appointed Youth Congress chief. “Draft him into the Youth Congress. Not one Mulayam, but scores of them will be out,” he declared.

Living up to the Congress tradition of dynasty worship, some leaders said the session had been rendered “historic” by his presence.

The statements were signal for the crowd to shout slogans in favour of the Nehru-Gandhi scion and demand that he take his place on the stage. An AICC member from Bihar, Ram Dhan, even took off his shirt to make a point while another unfurled a banner with pro-Rahul slogans. But Sonia Gandhi gestured to Rahul to stay put, so he obliged the crowd by standing up and waving.

Later, when he returned from the lunch break, the chorus started again. The demand was so vociferous that general secretary Ambika Soni interrupted Anand Sharma, who was then speaking. “I appeal to Rahul to come and sit on the dais for some minutes,” she said. He went up and sat beside his mother for 7-8 minutes before returning.

Sonia was deferential to protocol and went out of her way to reaffirm Manmohan Singh’s authority as Prime Minister. When Soni in her introductory remarks spoke of Singh’s attributes, the Congress chief clapped and, as if on cue, the other delegates joined in. When sports minister Sunil Dutt presented her with a set of books and leaflets, she gestured to him to first hand them to the Prime Minister, seated next to her.

But the party was happy to hail the dynasty. “The Nehru family is not a family but a movement. Their sacrifices are supreme. Nehru was in Naini jail for a long time, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, so was Rajiv. Sonia sacrificed the highest office in the country,” Das Munshi said.

The resolutions reflected the sentiment. One on Rajiv Gandhi said: “In the wake of… the assassination of Indira Gandhi, her young 40-year-old son, Rajiv Gandhi, was sworn in as her successor Prime Minister — and within weeks rescued India from the depths of despair, despondency and distress. A grateful nation rendered him the largest mandate ever accorded in the elections to the Lok Sabha. His five years as Prime Minister stand out as among the most shining epochs in the evolution of Independent India.”

On Sonia, the AICC resolution stressed her “spirit of sacrifice and service of the common people” and congratulated her for giving India a Prime Minister like Singh who, it said, represented her own priorities in politics — “competent, clear, clean and compassionate governance”.

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