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Free speech at Rahul’s first meeting

New Delhi, Jan. 31: Rahul Gandhi has straightaway done something his mother couldn’t in her 14 years as Congress president: provided a platform to office-bearers to unburden themselves without fear or inhibition.

Days after his first formal meeting, when the interaction was limited to exchange of pleasantries, Rahul today asked the office-bearers to speak frankly and tell the truth without reservation.

“Don’t keep anything in your heart. I will not mind, I will not hold a grudge against anybody. I want to understand the real picture. If you don’t tell me the truth about the party, where will you?” he said.

Never since 1998 when Sonia Gandhi took over, or earlier when the Congress was headed by others, has such an extended meeting been given such freedom.

Even general secretaries, the powerful elite in the party, rarely got an opportunity to freely discuss issues outside their area of responsibility with Sonia. Secretaries speaking about politics and organisation before the party boss was a distant dream.

Even the Congress Working Committee (CWC), whose meetings are often agenda-specific, is structured and the fear of repercussions overrides the desire to speak the truth.

But Rahul has said he wants to learn from everyone, so no time limit was fixed for the meeting. As secretaries could not speak today, he has called another meeting tomorrow before he goes ahead and restructures the team or formulates policies.

Many leaders were delighted and some saw this as “the dawn of a new culture” in this closed, regimented system.

Janardan Dwivedi, who briefed the media after the meeting, only said Rahul wanted to hear frank views and asked for focus on the future roadmap, not past mistakes.

A strict gag order was imposed on the participants, who largely honoured the diktat and refused to reveal what transpired inside. But some information that leaked in bits and pieces indicated that leaders did speak freely.

If some mustered the courage to talk about infighting, conspiracies, groupism and favouritism, others dwelt on systemic issues that have affected the party for long. One leader asked him to clear the suspense over the reshuffle in the party as everything was suspended in anticipation while another advised him not to hurry and bring about changes only after understanding the whole gamut of issues.

Suggestions like strict implementation of one-man-one-post, rewarding genuine workers, building local leadership across districts and states, early declaration of candidates for elections, constitution of booth committees and curbing over-reliance on outsiders came from many leaders.

Practical difficulties like the decision of general secretaries, PCC chiefs or state in-charge to contest an election, derailing the management system, were pointed out. One general secretary objected to the practice of giving organisational responsibility to ministers. The question of unfair ticket distribution also cropped up.

Rahul, who heard out everyone, set up a committee on election funding as promised by Sonia at the Jaipur conclave. Headed by Ambika Soni, it will include Veerappa Moily, M.S. Gill, Mani Shankar Aiyar, EMS Nachiappan and Mohan Gopal.