After he assumed charge as Congress president, Rahul Gandhi had promised to present a new party to the voters. The 84th plenary of the Congress in New Delhi gave a glimpse of what he meant. He took over the party’s leadership at a time when the Congress worker was demoralised and disillusioned by successive electoral reverses.
There has hardly been any good news for the Congress party in the last four years when it lost miserably to the BJP in 2014 general elections. While the BJP expanded its rule to 21 states, the Congress shrunk to barely three. The political map of the country clearly showed that the party was on the verge of extinction. This was the time when the Congress workers were looking up to the leadership to take charge and start the process of revival.
The image of the Congress in public mind has taken a beating because of the corruption charges in UPA II. The Congress plenary was meant to rejuvenate the workers so that they can hit the streets and halt prime minister Narendra Modi’s victory juggernaut.
The plenary certainly achieved its desired target. The old Congress ways of organising such meetings was replaced with new crisp presentations and panel discussions. The speeches by Congress leaders were short and electrifying. The stage certainly belonged to the young leadership with Rahul Gandhi leading the charge.
Often criticised for being a nervous and incoherent speaker, Rahul Gandhi went ballistic against the prime minister and BJP president Amit Shah. He did not hesitate in levelling direct charges of corruption to puncture BJP government’s claim that it had delivered a taint-free governance.
The Congress has clearly spelled out its intent for the first time that it is not only ready to take on the BJP but is also determined to turn the tables in 2019. The party has a long way to cover the distance between what the leaders at the plenary spoke about and achieving it on the ground. It has indicated that alliances with like-minded parties are one of the ways to challenge the election winning machinery of the BJP.
For the first time in many years, the Congress leaders sounded energetic and enthusiastic showing a serious intent to give a fight to the BJP. Going by the chants of the Congress workers, the battle in 2019 will be between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. It remains to be seen if the Congress leader will be acceptable to the opposition parties as their leader.
The Congress will have to win elections to stake a claim to be the principal opponent of the BJP. The right noises have been made at least. It remains to be seen how much of it is translated on the ground.
Political analysts watched the plenary with some interest. The next step for Rahul Gandhi will be to announce his team that will lead the party till 2019 and beyond. There is clearly a shift in the strategy and the grand old party has finally adapted new ways of campaigning. What stood out in the plenary was the hidden hand of Congress’ trump card Priyanka Gandhi. She is learnt to have taken keen interest in organising the plenary from the backroom. With Rahul Gandhi becoming president and Priyanka Gandhi taking keen interest, the Congress worker is revitalised. Rahul Gandhi appealed to the party workers to bury their differences and work for the cause of defeating BJP’s politics of hate. The other balancing act will be to manage the transition from the old guard to gen next leaders equitably so that there are no sharks lurking in the water.