New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi, who chose to rebuild the Congress instead of becoming a minister in the new government, is looking to revive the party by restructuring its youth wing and the first states in which he wants to do this are Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, according to people in the Congress.
Gandhi, the general secretary of the party and a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, has used the same approach to good effect in Punjab. In the run-up to the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha, in which the Congress-led alliance returned to power with a significant majority, he had spoken about his efforts and ambition to revive the 124-year-old party.
He was one of the Congress’ main campaigners in the elections and his strategy of going it alone in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has been credited by analysts as one of the factors that worked in favour of the party.
Game plan: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s strategy to nurture leaders from the party’s youth wing and move them into mainstream politics has paid off in Punjab. He hopes to repeat this in other states. Subhav Shukla / PTI
Gandhi’s game plan in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat is not very different from what he did in Punjab: to nurture leaders in the Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and eventually move them into mainstream politics.
Interestingly, the Congress isn’t very strong in either Tamil Nadu, where it has typically played second fiddle to either the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or Gujarat, a stronghold of the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to IYC member Prakash Joshi, Gandhi wants to infuse fresh leadership talent into IYC through a transparent electoral process. He also plans to start touring these states later this year—the beginning of a campaign that will gain in intensity and culminate in 2011 in Tamil Nadu and 2012 in Gujarat when these two states go to the polls.
And Gandhi’s plans also involve the restructuring of IYC at the level of state assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies. “Each (assembly) constituency would have its own office bearers,” says Ashok Tanwar, an IYC leader. “The next level would be at that of Lok Sabha constituencies, and, finally, state-level committees.”
The choice of the youth wing of the party to effect change and revive the Congress is deliberate, says a person affiliated with the party.
“Youngsters don’t expect results overnight. They are ready to fight and strengthen the organization as they know that they have time at their disposal. Revival of a party in a state like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu calls for a lot of time and effort. Rahul Gandhi by refusing to join the cabinet has given the message that nobody is in a rush...,” says Rajeev Gowda, professor of political science and economy at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. Gowda has has worked closely with Gandhi’s team in Karnataka.
Gandhi’s efforts to revive the party began last year in Punjab. Earlier this year, IYC launched a month-long membership drive in Gujarat where organizational polls to the youth wing of the party are currently under way. Tamil Nadu is next on the agenda, says Tanwar.
“Our answer to (Narendra) Modi’s development myth would be freshness, sincerity and inclusive development of the young leadership of the Congress. We are confident that the shrillness of (the) BJP’s communal propaganda politics would be overtaken by the Congress in the next assembly polls,” says Union minister of state for power and former Gujarat Congress chief Bharat Singh Solanki. He adds that there will be a “greater role” for young people in the party’s state unit in the future.
Tanwar, who has been elected to the Lok Sabha from Sirsa (Haryana), credits the 11 Lok Sabha seats won by the Congress in Gujarat to the party’s membership drive ahead of the polls.
“The results are reflective of the contact programme during the membership drive. Our organizational polls in Gujarat will be over this month. Next (on the agenda) will be Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry,” adds Tanwar. He claims that the Congress, through Gandhi’s game plan, has “opened doors for newer leaders based on merit after a gap of around two decades”. At least six representatives from IYC have been elected to the 15th Lok Sabha.
Elections in IYC are monitored by a four-member team, including Joshi.
“Our membership drive in Gujarat has resulted in 700,000 fresh members for the Indian Youth Congress,” says Joshi, who adds that at all levels, there are positions reserved for women, and people from the scheduled castes and tribes, and other backward classes.
An expert says that IYC would have to become “an active social force” if it hopes to displace the ruling parties in states such as Gujarat.
“The struggle in Gujarat is an ideological struggle. The Congress cadre will have to relate to the society. The youth will have to stand up against the (BJP’s) communal agenda. A mere organizational expansion is not enough,” says Kamal M. Chenoy, professor at the School of International Studies at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
The BJP doesn’t seem to be worried by the Congress’ plans for Gujarat. “We all are witness to the Youth Congress activism of 1970s, led by Sanjay Gandhi. The nation (has) known the fruits of this organization and the bitter memories of the Emergency cannot easily fade away,” says BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Naqvi refers to the findings of the Shah Commission (which looked into alleged excesses of the Congress during the Emergency) and says that the activities of the youth brigade of the Congress had endangered democracy in the country in the mid-1970s.
Still, its youth wing would seem to be central to the Congress’ current strategy.
The partial success of Gandhi’s strategy in the recent elections, where the Congress won 206 seats, seems to have convinced the party that introducing fresh talent through its youth wing is the only way to move towards achieving the magic 272 mark in the House (this gives the party a simple majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha) on its own. Congress party members say that after Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, Gandhi is likely to turn his attention to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Maharashtra.