Hyderabad, Jan. 22: Sonia Gandhi said don’t “speak too much about me”. She didn’t say don’t “speak too much about Rahul”, though she might have meant it. Or did she'
Congress leaders, who would probably be lost for words if they were prohibited from speaking about their boss, grabbed the opportunity with both hands and a mouth.
Minutes after Janardan Dwivedi, the general secretary who acted as the moderator, declared the session open, the “Rahul lao, desh bachao” script began to unfold, with some full-throated acting.
Dwivedi had to inform the gathering for the party’s plenary that Rahul would speak tomorrow, but if he so wished, he could come up on the dais and wave to the crowd.
Rahul obliged, more than that, actually. He even spoke. “Namaskar. I will speak tomorrow. Until then, I will sit among the delegates.”
Five slots in the Congress Working Committee are vacant after the recent changes. Observers had commented at the time of the changes that Sonia would be “forced” to bring Rahul on board after an almighty din for the son at the plenary. Today was the time for the din. And a lot of drum beating for the next in line.
Sonia’s early remarks ' “do not waste time speaking about personalities, come straight to the point” ' sank in the torrent of words in adulation of Rahul from several senior leaders, including two from Bengal who engaged in their own private competition.
Speaking about the party’s resolution on external affairs, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee found a window of opportunity in a paragraph on India’s relations with Africa and just stopped short of comparing Rahul with Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
A sentence said the Congress noted with “great satisfaction” Rahul’s visit to South Africa last year to receive an award on behalf of his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru. “This is the country where Gandhiji started his experiments with truth, where Mandela fought his fight against apartheid, where a representative of young India received an award. He symbolises the aspirations of the people of a country which fought for centuries against colonialism.”
Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the I&B minister, likened Rahul to a “chingaari” (spark) which would light up the “mashaal” (torch) to show the way for India in the 21st century. “If Rajiv Gandhi’s dreams for India have to be fulfilled, you (Rahul) will have to come forward,” he said.
For M.I. Shahnawaz, from Kerala, Rahul was the symbol of “Indian culture and humility”.
“There is no need to speak too much about me,” Sonia, who had wanted a business meet, had said. So business-like it was to be that Dwivedi had announced there would be no official lunch break. He advised delegates to leave for the food courts in small batches.
After lunch, however, on heavy stomachs Congress leaders found external affairs to be indigestible.
There was a loud chorus for Rahul, who came on stage again, smiled, waved and appealed for the proceedings to be allowed to continue.