| Rahul Gandhi at the conference in New Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi, Jan. 29: Like the hallucination in Lage Raho Munnabhai, he shimmered into view every now and then as a ready reckoner for the flesh-and-blood lead actors.
But although the Mahatma served in part to re-strap the Congress to its “sarvodaya, satyagraha and ahimsa” legacy, his prime value lay elsewhere at the satyagraha conference. He today provided two other Gandhis, Sonia and Rahul, their first big chance to connect with an international audience.
Railway minister Lalu Prasad made the point with typical pithiness: “Sonia is not just the leader of India, she is a world leader.”
As 296 delegates from 74 countries converged at Vigyan Bhavan, it was clear the jamboree was meant to toast the country’s first political family.
First, the event bore the Congress stamp with Sonia at the helm. Second, her son and heir apparent was part of an official team that included his political peers and juniors, such as Ajay Maken, Jitin Prasada and Tushar Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson.
Rahul avoided the podium and sat with the rest of the team, next to delegation head Margaret Alva. But he is to speak at a session on nuclear disarmament and non-violence tomorrow.
Everyone who was someone made it a point to shake hands with Rahul and mention Sonia and every other member of the family in their speeches. Sonia, too, spoke of her late husband. Sources said Rahul had met some of the world dignitaries one-to-one.
Sonia, speaking of nuclear weapons, recalled that in October 1988, Rajiv Gandhi had offered a blueprint for comprehensive and universal nuclear disarmament at the UN.
“Just a few days ago, four influential Americans who held very different views whilst in office, including Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, have drawn attention to his impassioned plea and called for urgent action.”
On the Mahatma, she said: “The challenge for us now is to find creative inspiration from Gandhian ways to evolve a satyagraha appropriate to our times…. The task before us is how we, individually and collectively, launch an organised, disciplined mass movement for peace, non-violence and empowerment.”
Others dusted the Mahatma’s ideas on poverty, inequity, war, terrorism and religious and ethnic intolerance.
But the Left was red-faced, thanks to Lech Walesa. The former Poland President darted barbs at communists though he made a small concession: “When I say communism, I have the Soviet communists in mind. There are variants of communism here and there that can be tolerated.”
CPM boss Prakash Karat, seated in the first row, had a smirk on his face. DMK minister Dayanidhi Maran gently patted the hand of his neighbour, D. Raja, as the CPI leader squirmed in his chair.