The Telegraph
Thursday , February 27 , 2014
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Old guard & young guns at odds in Cong

New Delhi, Feb. 26: The Congress leadership is grappling with a unique crisis: how to harmonise traditional electoral logic with modern management techniques.

This is a typical dilemma that usually splits the young and the old but what is worrying the oldest political party now run by a young Rahul Gandhi is the conflict the two viewpoints have created at a time a critical electoral battle looms ahead.

The first Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting called by Rahul in his capacity as vice-president last week saw the old guard stand up to the new approach suggested by the young brigade.

Sources said many senior CWC members didn’t appreciate the presentation on “new voters” made at the meeting by an “apolitical person”. They felt too much emphasis was being laid on these factors while the primary issues were not being urgently dealt with.

Some even argued that categorising electoral communities on the basis of age could be fallacious in India’s caste-driven societies where voting patterns were different from modern nations.

While only a few members spoke up at the CWC meeting, the sources said most senior leaders saw merit in their argument although they conceded that every input contributed to strategy-making and that there should be a balanced approach.

Questions are, however, being raised in several circles about the approach to election management and there are serious reservations in the party on certain decisions that are being described as a waste of time.

Some senior leaders feel the undue importance given to “apolitical inputs” could prove disastrous as, according to them, elections in India require more than “clinical data analysis”.

By “apolitical input” they mean professional experts who assist Rahul in different capacities.

There are also doubts among these leaders about the content and approach of the campaign as many feel even Rahul’s dramatically enhanced presence in the media had not affected popular perceptions.

“It is not merely a clash between the old and the new. Many younger elements who have faith in modern techniques of election management feel the need for corrections. At times, lack of personal experience of the political processes can lead even persons with brilliant ideas to wrong conclusions,” a source told The Telegraph.

“We should realise that this election, when predictions of doom have already damaged our self-confidence, and there is a 10-year-old anti-incumbency too, should not be used for too much experimentation.”

Initially, there was confusion on the approach to Narendra Modi as some leaders insisted he would exploit personal attacks to his benefit. Now there are differences on what line Rahul should take.

There are leaders who felt Rahul’s emphasis on “izzat” (honour) for the poor drew inspiration from an old discourse that was relevant when Lalu Prasad was rising, but the India of 2014 had moved to a higher degree of consciousness and it was now driven by aspiration, not “izzat”.

Similarly, there are leaders who believe Rahul’s participation in pre-manifesto consultations was not yielding the desired results as the message, that the Congress was serious in confronting the rampaging Modi, had not yet gone out.

These leaders feel Rahul should connect with the masses directly instead of restricting his interactions to a closed circle. They argue that Rahul is coming out as a committed, well-meaning individual in these interactions but this task should have been completed a month ago. “He should realise that we are already into the war,” a Lok Sabha MP said, arguing that people want to see a fighter, not a visionary.

Many leaders have amended their negative assessment of Rahul’s approach, conceding that his suggestions to change the bulk of sitting MLAs in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh in the recent elections would certainly have yielded much better results.

The senior leaders, however, threw tantrums and lobbied hard for their loyalists, forcing Rahul to withdraw, leading to disastrous consequences. The Congress lost in all four states.

But this experience hasn’t altered the ground rules in the party and the tussle between the old and the new approaches continues.