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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Focus: Rahul Gandhi’s 'Grand Plan' To 'Revamp Congress'

The Nehru-Gandhi scion has been strategising for months in preparation for his ascendance to the party president’s post. This is what he plans to do to bring Congress back into power.

It is now certain that the Reluctant Prince, shedding his hesitation, is all set to take charge of the 130-year-old Congress party very soon. The revelation caps a week of fervid chatter by the commentariat on Rahul Gandhi’s political career, where it analysed his two-week leave of absence and judged everything from his lack of dynamism to naïve sincerity, his lethargy and indifference to sudden bounce, and his transition from a tragic heir to a fleeting radical.

Whether it was from disinterest or lack of curiosity, the commentariat paid no attention to the intense confabulations that had taken place between Rahul Gandhi and Congress workers over the last few months. Those parleys, meant to strategise for the party, would have continued endlessly had Rahul Gandhi not upped and left one day to “reflect upon recent events and the future course of the party”.

The timing of the disappearance was significant, says a close aide and prominent member of Rahul Gandhi’s new strategic team, who typically did not want to be named, when the realisation dawned that the Modi magic was beginning to pale and that the prime minister was not invincible. “It took just nine months to see a change in the mood, and Rahul decided that if he has to take charge, it has to be now.” The outline of the strategy is laid out, and the party hopes to go from junk status to asset building.

Here is the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s game plan for the Grand Old Party.

India Dialogues: It’s no secret Rahul Gandhi has AAP envy, and has craved for Arvind Kejriwal’s democratic model of openness and transparency. Like the Aam Aadmi Party’s successful Delhi Dialogues, which set the stage for vast outreach to the people, Rahul Gandhi’s immediate focus is to get the party to reconnect with constituents, to initiate a dialogue in each of the 543 constituencies with citizenry, experts, bureaucrats, researchers and academics on crucial issues like education, employment, health, housing, sanitation, power, water. The key factor is participatory democracy or inclusiveness through dialogue. Rahul Gandhi will get on the road (a padayatra of the unconventional kind) for the next two years, coordinating ideas, schemes and strategies for a productive environment, gush his colleagues.

Star player: Koppula Raju, former IAS officer, will set out the road map.

Old vs. Young: A lot has been written about the anxiety of the Old Guard and its forced retirement, and the game-changing young, energised, new leadership. It is not about replacing old for new, beseech aides, it is whether you are an asset or a liability to the party. The key to being relevant today is: are you a lone star or a team player. Self-interest and egocentricity will be dumped, and teamwork and shared goals will instead be the new mantra. “We saw how giant egos, arrogance brought down the Congress government to this pitiful state,” said an aide. “Senior leaders admit today there were mistakes, but they also confess they did nothing about it. Nobody gave a hoot about the problems or the party, everyone acted for themselves. It cannot happen anymore.”

Star players:
VETS: Ahmed Patel still remains at the top for his adaptability.
NEWBIES: Ajay Maken, Sachin Pilot, Ashok Chavan, Sanjay Nirupam and more.

Party not individual: Rahul Gandhi has always been scoffed at for playing the eternal outsider, wanting to overturn hereditary, crony and patronage politics for a genuine democratic, meritorious and deserving party leadership, but this time he wants to approach the testy situation by propping up the party rather than the individual. So far individuals have given themselves prominence at the cost of the party, say his team members, and that is why the Congress could retain only 44 seats in the last general election, most of them fiefs of the leadership.

The new focus will be party-centric, to rebuild the brand, reinforce its unique message, history and spirit, empower party workers, and use direct communication in a smart way rather than being demonstratively controlling. As an aide said, “We may admire AAP’s tactics but there’s nothing worse than being like Kejriwal, who is not just authoritarian like Modi, but also moralistic – a recipe for becoming a despot, and as you can see, it’s already playing out.”

Star player: Alankar Sawai, a former banker, will research, identify, analyse party brand, also social media.

Credibility cache: Corruption, nepotism and profiteering had become the Congress badge of dishonour, for which it paid the heavy price of stunning losses in elections in the last one year. Rahul Gandhi and Team will aim to win back the party’s voters by being credible once again. Sounds great on paper but easier said than done? Rahul Gandhi’s team members believe the Congress has to go back to basics, to its core beliefs of liberalism, freedom and modernism, and that there should be no dilution when it comes to policy decisions or taking a public stand.

“There will be no dilly-dallying on keeping every section in the party and society happy, nor indulging coalition partners, or taking a duplicitous stand,” explained a team member, “So far workers had no idea what the party stood for. The strategy is to have clear-cut policies whether it’s about hate politics or women’s safety, economic development or tribal rights. There’ll be no dilution or duplicity, we will be on the streets demanding accountability from all state agencies.”
Key players: Party workers.

Public discourse: Rahul Gandhi’s team players admit the party got thrashed in the public perception sweepstakes by a steamrolling Modi campaign. Worse, because of the countless views and voices as well as the incoherent articulation of opinion by the leadership, the worst casualty was Rahul Gandhi himself. Insiders say every time Rahul Gandhi made a public appeal, from Bhatta Parsaul or Niyamgiri, there were no directives from the government, leaving him looking like a fool. Rahul Gandhi will not forgive this easily, they say. 

It is also why the Congress has adopted an aggressive onslaught against the Modi government since Day One, despite the opinion from various quarters that it should allow the new government a honeymoon period. The success, if the Congress can claim a bit, is there to see: its pamphlets on black money and Modi’s U-turns on election promises have got it some publicity oxygen. In the future, the All India Congress Committee, Parliament and party worker on ground will work in tandem. Rahul Gandhi will be accessible and available to key cogs in the organisation.

Star player: Kaushal Vidyarthee, Oxonian and researcher, looks after Rahul Gandhi’s schedules and meetings.

Congress franchisees: With the Congress ceding its traditional bases to caste leaders who have cut the caste and reservation pie for themselves, Rahul Gandhi has come up with a blueprint to woo the lost vote banks back. Whether in Uttar Pradesh or Tamil Nadu, the new plan is to break up constituencies according to occupations and jobs – street vendors, manufacturers, domestic workers, etc – and evolve a development plan according to their needs and ambitions. There will be no more Congress franchises, the party will move in and make its presence felt. A massive membership drive is ready to be launched.

Star player: More new state leaders to be appointed.

Bring Priyanka: To make sure that the Bring Priyanaka brigade is no longer able to embarrass Rahul Gandhi, his sister will be on his side, supervising and guiding his core team whenever she is needed.
Star player: Priti Sahay, who assists Priyanka Gandhi
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