In Rahul Gandhi’s first meeting with 52 AICC office-bearers and the state in-charges at the Congress headquarters, the new vice-president of the party impressed upon his colleagues - most of them many years senior in age and political experience - the need to rejuvenate the party structure at the grass-root level to make it fighting fit for the coming elections, most importantly 2014.
In order to keep the initiative at the discussion level, a six-member election reform committee was set under the chairmanship of Ambika Soni.
Soni came back to the party to take up organisational work relinquishing her Union I&B Ministry portfolio last year.
Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily, who had headed the Government’s Administrative Reform Committee prior to his induction into the Union Cabinet, is also going to be on the newly-formed panel, expected to recommend ways to improve the party’s internal electoral structure at the booth and block levels.
Rahul’s penchant for having former Election Commission hands draw up roadmap for election reforms within the Congress was evident again when he named former Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill as one of the members of the committee.Gill has little experience in fighting elections.
After joining the Congress post-retirement through the Rajya Sabha route, Gill had also held the Sports Ministry charge till he was dropped in the July 2011 reshuffle. But on Thursday he was taken on the party panel primarily because of his experience at the Election Commission.
Interestingly, former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who functions more like a self-appointed Congress ideologue and has often bitterly criticised the Manmohan Singh government, also found a place on the election panel. So did Mohan Gopal and E M S Natchiappan.
The setting up of the panel was one aspect of the two-and-a-half-hour long closed-door meeting for which the Congress headquarters was turned into a fortress with the SPG team members checking and frisking every single entry, including the Cabinet Ministers.
Except for Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, no one was allowed to even take their car inside 24 Akbar Road. Rahul walked over from mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s residence next door with a SPG ring thrown around.
Inside the meeting, it was more of a free-wheeling exchange. From Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel to all general secretaries who have responsibility of the party in the states spoke. Later, Janardhan Dwivedi, briefing the media, said, “In all, 18 people spoke at the meeting. No time limit was given.’’
Hence the meeting remained inconclusive and the second part will take place on Friday evening. Rahul is said to have interacted with his party colleague mostly asking them to ensure that the government’s welfare schemes are implemented at the grass-root level.
If there is a palpable unease in the party about what next, it is being cleverly hid under the talk of how the prince is trying to enthuse everyone to rejuvenate the Congress at all levels, all over again.