Rahul Gandhi with minister of state for defence Jitendra Singh, paraplegic swimmer Deepa Malik, wrestler Sushil Kumar and actor John Abraham at an event to observe Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary at the India Gate lawns on Thursday. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Jan. 30: Rahul Gandhi today sold his pet theme of “opening the system” to street vendors, unorganised sector workers and labour union representatives who came to the Congress’s manifesto-making meeting to push their demands.
Most of the participants returned happy, primarily because they “enjoyed the interaction” with Rahul, who they said was “a sensitive leader dedicated to bringing improvement to the lives of ordinary people”.
A few, though, felt the exercise would have been more meaningful if “specific issues” had been addressed.
“The promise to open the system to the common man drew applause, but it meant little to most of us,” said one.
Although most of the participants were Congress supporters, they had come with a list of demands and grievances.
One demanded a legal provision for women workers in the unorganised sectors to be paid through cheques, because their “drunkard” husbands snatch their cash. An anganwaadi worker sought job regularisation.
A labour leader asked Rahul to ensure the registration of every single worker in every field; another complained that contract workers did not receive even the official minimum wages.
Rahul, however, restricted himself to generalities and drifted into the province of what kind of relationship labour organisations should have with political parties.
He promised to “open the system” to ensure “their voice” got reflected in decision-making. He then went a step further and spoke of a system in which the people, like those at the meeting, would have a say in manifesto-making and even candidate selection.
“You should have your voice in Parliament and Assemblies. You should decide who gets the ticket to contest. For this, the Congress needs to be restructured. We need to open the system,” Rahul said.
“You are already involved in the manifesto-making exercise. We have now decided to select candidates for 15 to 20 seats through a transparent system. This is a pilot project that will be expanded to the whole country.”
Although Rahul has indeed expanded the consultative process for manifesto-making, this is unlikely to dramatically change the way political parties and governments behave.
The Congress has already had in place various kinds of consultative mechanisms, including the National Advisory Council that Sonia Gandhi introduced, that have played a role in the formulation of several celebrated welfare schemes and pieces of legislation.
As far as the people’s say in candidate selection is concerned, this looks extremely unlikely at present.
The party has decided that primaries would be held for 16 Lok Sabha seats, but only Congress office-bearers from these constituencies are expected to vote to decide their candidates.
These 16 seats are: Guwahati (Assam), North West Delhi and Chandni Chowk (Delhi), Bhavnagar and Vadodara (Gujarat), Bangalore North and Dakshin Kannada (Karnataka), Indore and Mandsaur (Madhya Pradesh), Aurangabad and Yavatmal Washim (Maharashtra), Bikaner and Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan), Sant Kabir Nagar and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) and Calcutta North.
A team of returning officers has been assigned to each of these constituencies to ensure the smooth conduct of voter registration and the election process for the primaries.