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Expectations yoke Rahul to pledge

Jaipur, Jan. 21: Rahul Gandhi may have, unwittingly or otherwise, raised the bar so high for himself that any hesitation or deficiency in translating the lofty rhetoric into political action could trigger deep frustration in the party.

So excited and energised were the AICC delegates and those who attended the Chintan Shivir after his speech yesterday that they returned with the hope of seeing a complete purge in the Congress system.

Although senior leaders also expressed happiness at his performance, ordinary workers from different states were convinced he would seriously address the malaise of groupism and introduce a merit- and performance-based reward mechanism.

Rahul laid great emphasis on these issues and has claimed success in implementing his vision in the Youth Congress and the NSUI but such experiments in the parent body is easier said than done.

Most senior leaders believe the system of elections in the Youth Congress brought in boys and girls from ordinary, non-political families but a large crowd of opportunists had always worked their way in.

At the Chintan Shivir, a senior leader told Rahul: “Some of your youth brigade are lumpens and they should be properly trained in the Congress ideology.”

Another leader pointed out that Rajiv Gandhi, too, created new leadership, through a “pick-and-choose” method, and that was a rich crop that sustained the party for decades.

Leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel, Rajesh Pilot, Anand Sharma, Salman Khurshid, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath were among the young leaders Rajiv promoted. Sonia Gandhi, too, promised to create a young leadership but relied on these trusted lieutenants instead.

Rahul has to take bold steps while creating his new team, though he has indicated his readiness to keep a mix of experience and youth.

Still, there is little doubt that senior leaders, particularly those in the organisation and given importance by Sonia, are feeling jittery. Many of them will have to pack their bags very soon. Many leaders believe Rahul will face an uphill task in picking his team and soon realise his idealism is not workable in today’s politics.

Asked if Rahul will be able to translate his ideas into political action, many leaders avoided making any comment. But a few spoke on record, hoping that he would walk the talk as he has to succeed, come what may.

Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, told The Telegraph: “Rahulji has given us a new vision and I have no doubt that the Congress will emerge stronger. We are now confident that UPA III will return under his leadership. He has energised and united the whole party.”

Mani Shankar Aiyar said: “Let’s see what he does now but what he has already done is amazing. There was exhilaration in the hall yesterday and he changed the party’s mood in 45 minutes. I have become his fan.”

Aiyar explained: “He exceeded everybody’s expectations. I have never seen such a scene and heard such a speech. True, he had some points noted down but he largely spoke extempore. The clarity of thought, the language and the philosophy… here is a young man who believes power is to be used to empower people, otherwise it is poison. He has come as a ray of hope in the darkness all around. I have no doubt that he will try to change political culture and change India.”

Getting a pat from Aiyar on language and philosophy is not easy.

Senior leader Shakeel Ahmed said: “It is exceptional that the speech had the same effect on everybody, be it a 19-year-old NSUI girl or a 50-year-old leader or an 80-year-old veteran. The emotional bonding Rahul created in the entire party is his biggest achievement. He has already charged up the party without taking any real action after his elevation.”

Younger leaders are more excited. Junior HRD minister Jitin Prasada said: “The only problem with the Congress for the last two years was that workers were demoralised. Rahulji changed that yesterday and we have received astonishing feedback. This momentum will be sustained.”

But many leaders agreed that the road ahead for Rahul was difficult and expecting miracles would be naïve. But they also contended that Rahul was not looking for shortcuts and that was the advantage of being 42.