MUMBAI: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi Friday completed a hectic day of meetings with party activists at various levels with an eye on the forthcoming 2014 state assembly elections, even as top party leaders maintained his visit was "non-political".
In a symbolic gesture, Gandhi paid a visit to Chaityabhoomi, the monument of the Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar, in Dadar and remained closeted in meetings with party activists in four different venues - but shied away from the hordes of media persons all through the day.
Instead, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and state Congress President Manikrao Thakre 'handled' the media late Friday evening.
The duo took pains to explain that Gandhi's visit was "non-political" in nature and he had come to meet the newly-elected office-bearers and activists at various levels within the party in the past few months.
"This meeting could not be held earlier as there were local elections around the state in the past few months," Chavan said.
Giving a general overview, Thakre said that Gandhi discussed the issues concerning the party at all levels and he was informed that Congress was weak in seven to eight districts.
"He sought suggestions and discussed with the grassroots party activists how to strengthen it," Thakre added.
Earlier Friday, Rahul hinted that he would like to tour Maharashtra more often and go to the interiors of different constituencies to understand the strengths, weaknesses of the party and issues confronting it before the 2014 assembly polls, a city Youth Congress office-bearer said.
"During the day, he (Rahulji) patiently met, talked, interacted and discussed various issues and challenges before the party with nearly 2000 representatives from the students, youth, city, state, block and other arms of the party," the office-bearer, preferring anonymity, told IANS.
At one of the meetings, when Gandhi wanted to know who was an aggressive or go-getter leader, the names of senior ministers like Narayan Rane, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Balasaheb Thorat were mentioned by the members in the audience.
However, the office-bearer said that nothing much should be construed out of this except getting a feel of the situation and challenges before the party in the state.
In a meeting of the block level activists, Chavan and Thakre said that they (the block level workers) comprised "the backbone" of the party.
To this, Gandhi wanted to know what kind of authority or responsibilities were vested with them, many of them replied in the negative.
Apparently surprised, Gandhi said that it was the drawback of the party that the block level activists were not given more powers or authority to make a more meaningful contribution to the organisation, and urged that this should be rectified.
At one of the meetings in Tilak Bhavan, the state Congress headquarters, Gandhi noticed several senior and aged Congressmen patiently waiting in the hall, and remarked that it was a matter of concern that these people had spent their whole life serving the party but got no benefits.
Gandhi, who will stay overnight in Raj Bhavan, is scheduled to leave for some of the worst drought-hit regions of Satara district, around 250 south-east of Mumbai. He will be accompanied by Chavan, Thakre and other senior party officials.