Enter the new world of corporate congress
By Santwana Bhattacharya - NEW DELHI
Published: 27th Oct 2013 09:10:37 AM
Two days ago, a Maharashtra Congress Committee leader of some vintage was forced to learn new tricks the hard way. To a young Rahul Brigade Wunderkind sitting in the Congress Vice President’s office in 12 Tuglak Lane armed with a shiny new laptop and mounds of data, he began to proudly recount details of his ‘successful duara’ of the districts, the sine quo non of electoral politics. He was curtly interrupted and asked to produce ‘evidence’ that can be uploaded. “Get photographs, not one but many from different angles,’’ he was told.
Welcome to the brave new world of the Corporate Congress of Vice President Rahul Gandhi. He may be giving “my heart beats only for the poor’’ spiel at election rallies and promising to open up the rarified political space to those who live “invisible lives, behind the wall’’, but back at his office (from where he rules over the AICC headquarters), his brigade is in true form. For appraisal forms, candidate selection forms, screening committee forms, feedback forms and interview formats abound. From general secretaries to aam workers, Congresmen are on a learning curve. Every move has be documented and vouched for. Despite the pressures of an elections season, a ‘board of overseers (directors)’, chosen from among a new set of AICC leaders are authorised to check on their activities any time. If a ‘neta’ decides to “move out of his air-conditioned room to meet the aam janta or the party workers in the rural hinterland”, the ‘activity’ better be recorded. And, no fudging facts either. All posters of party programmes from the bloc/taluka to the PCCs have to be showcased on websites, pronto. Second-rung Congress leaders and workers have to be in sync with the new fangled methods of party work that many feel “can only be mastered by the well-heeled”, the Harvard-Wharton educated types, familiar with business operations.
For the old guard, no option exists—tri-monthly forms have to be filled by general secretaries to show what work has been done. PCCs chiefs have to give monthly reports. MPs and MLAs are being screened for the ‘public and political work’ they have done after being elected and whether it is good enough to win in the next election. Anybody, from a veteran mantri to a block president could be called in for interviews by the young guns. The AICC department heads expected to mobilise voters and run the government’s flagship programmes from the party end are selected through rigorous screening process. “What is wrong, we’ll get used to the new style. We’ve been told functioning democracies and political parties in other countries had to reform their ways to survive,’’ a senior party leader who was recently part of a board that selected the Congress minority cell head confided.
He’s not too far off the mark. No less than eight candidates were short-listed for interviews with Khurshid Ahmed Saiyed, a general secretary with the Gujarat Congress Committee selected to head the minority cell—a crucial department in strategising for the coming elections. Saiyed is from the Janata Party/Dal stock of the V P Singh era and had joined the Congress along with Chimanbhai Patel. Little known outside his state, he had to literally go around AICC headquarters flaunting his bio-data to make himself known. Not even the Minority Cell members were aware of his antecedents. But no one dared to question the appointment to a department that was once headed by the likes of Arjun Singh, C K Jaffar Sharief, Ahmed Patel and A R Antulay. For an interview board headed by Rahul Gandhi and three others—Janardan Dwivedi, Madhusudan Mistry and K Raju had chosen him. While Dwivedi, considered part of the old-guard was on the panel in his capacity as the general secretary, organisation, the other two are known more for their proximity to Rahul and his handpicked lieutenants at the AICC than for any political acumen or leadership quality.
As action shifted to Rahul’s office, the party war-room at Gurdwara Rakabgunj Road where senior leaders met in the evening for brainstorming is now nearly defunct.
Some of the senior leaders who are also LS members would be surprised to know that the new band of AICC office-bearers is evaluating their constituency work. A small-time trade union leader from Tamil Nadu, for instance, was found giving inputs on which MP from his state is likely to win and how they won last time, whether it was with the help of ally (DMK) or any public work to his credit. The data, thus received, was fed on to the computers for analysis.
With Congress President Sonia Gandhi gradually withdrawing from daily affairs of the party, she is allowing her 43-year-old son to experiment with the 125-year-old Congress, says a veteran partyman. But the likes of Jairam Ramesh known to have given the party election winning slogans and catchphrases remains constant gardeners. On Saturday, Ramesh was appointed convener. who will “facilitate the coordination of various activities with Lok Sabha Elections, 2014’’. In other words, he will ensure that Rahul makes no more faux pas in his speeches.