NEW DELHI: The Twitter handle was new, the stagecraft looked different, even the faces had changed. Instead of Doordarshan-era Hindi, the master of ceremonies spoke a nifty, visibly New Gen tongue. All the optics at the two-day 84th Congress plenary at the Indira Gandhi stadium on the banks of the Yamuna signalled the change of guard.
But in a week dominated by news that propelled non-Congress parties to the centre of speculation about national politics, the challenges for Rahul Gandhi remained the familiar ones. And Sonia Gandhi, the outgoing president, gave the real political push in her afternoon session.
Pointedly inverting recent BJP slogans, Sonia said a Congress victory would mean a Bharat that is “ahankar-mukt, pratisodh-mukt, pakshpat-mukt”—an India free of ego, vengefulness and bias. But to make that a viable proposition, the Congress needs to be itself winning votes.
For that, the party needed to speak a new language. And on Saturday at this spiffy venue, it seemed it was trying. The visual statements spoke louder than what was actually said from the mike. Instead of a cabal of geriatric men sitting on a durree, there was a lectern, there were panel discussions, and there was Rahul Gandhi.
When it came to him, he spoke in binaries: “The BJP spreads hatred,” he said. “The Congress spreads love and brotherhood. Our party is needed for both development and for unity.” And, speaking on behalf of a 133-year-old party, he said the Congress was a “senior” whose ‘experience” was “needed by the juniors”.
But the real question about the Congress is whether it will be central to—or even unnecessary for—any emerging anti-BJP alliance in the future. The political resolution spoke of a “pragmatic approach” but at a time when the Congress is trying to both redefine itself and make itself viable, in new colours and under a new leadership, at a time when the going is not good for it, there will need to be more than slogans. Especially in a week when non-BJP parties found it viable this week to explore an alliance that does not include it.
Internally, the generational shift was all too apparent. Mallikarjun Kharge and Meira Kumar—both Dalit leaders, one from the south and the other from the north—spoke right after the new chief.
So did Siddaramaiah on “no stopping Rahul Gandhi from becoming PM’’; but the baton had clearly shifted. Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, P Chidambaram, Ahmed Patel, and Sheila Diskhit seemed like leaders in the sunset, quietly listening to Sushmita Deb, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Shashi Tharoor waxing eloquent. This was a young Congress that was being showcased, whether it’ll connect with the aspirations of the young voter will only be known when the year turns.