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Cheers before speech, not after

New Delhi, Nov. 17: The Congress today formally showcased its future face but Rahul Gandhi disappointed many with an abstract speech short on issues and vision.

An expectant Talkatora Stadium was packed at a nippy 9am as the Amethi MP made his debut as a party general secretary and member of the powerful Congress Working Committee. As he settled in the last row, party workers clamoured for him to move to the front where Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister sat.

Rahul did not budge. General secretary Janardhan Dwivedi, anchoring the All India Congress Committee annual session, promised that the young MP would speak in the afternoon. The 3,000-strong audience’s impatience grew from that point and the state delegates were given a rough time.

When Rahul finally took the mike, for three minutes or so everybody, including Manmohan Singh, kept clapping. Singh had just said the young MP “can win the minds and affection of our youth and take the Congress party and the nation to new frontiers and new heights of glory”.

Rahul kept it short, beginning in Hindi and switching to English midway for the benefit of those from the south.

“In our country… you have those who are direct stake-holders in nation-building. On the other side, there are people who are not part of this progress…. What, after all, is poverty' A poor person is one who is denied the opportunity to become rich.”

He added: “The true realisation of India’s power lies in igniting the fire of ambition of our aspiring millions…. For this flame to spread, India needs to be connected within itself and to the rest of the world.”

Rahul’s aides spread the word that he had written the speech himself. But to many listeners — who had expected a specific political direction and some fireworks on issues like price rise and unemployment — it all sounded too banal.

At the end of the speech, the applause was polite rather than enthusiastic.

The young man could have taken a lesson from his late father, Rajiv Gandhi, whose “a century of endeavour beckons us” speech at the Congress centenary 22 years ago is remembered as a milestone.

Rajiv Gandhi was already Prime Minister but still relatively new to politics and it was his first important speech. He spoke of a new direction, of ending the era of power brokers and feudal cliques.

“Millions of ordinary Congress workers… are handicapped, for on their backs ride the brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a mass movement into a feudal oligarchy,” Rajiv Gandhi said.

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