New Delhi: A day after being elevated as the No. 2 in the Congress, Rahul Gandhi said on Sunday that he would fight for the people of India “with everything I have” and attacked the country’s power structure, as the ruling party pledged to articulate the aspirations of the young and the middle class, create an investment-friendly business environment, and generate more jobs.
“Congress party is now my life,” Gandhi said on the final day of a three-day party conclave in Jaipur. “The people of India are my life. I will fight for the people of India and for this party. I will fight with everything I have. I invite all of you to stand up and take on this fight.”
The 42-year-old Rahul Gandhi, who was promoted from party general secretary to vice-president on Saturday, hugged his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi before and after the almost hour-long speech, which was greeted with frequent applause by a 1,500-strong audience.
“Power is grossly centralized in our country, we only empower people at the top of a system,” Rahul Gandhi said. “We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom. Every single day I meet people who have tremendous understanding, deep insight and no voice... And then I meet people holding high positions with tremendous voice, but no understanding of the issues at hand.”
The leader of the young brigade in the Congress said India’s youth were angry “because they are alienated and are excluded from the political class”.
“They watch from the sidelines as the powerful drive around in their lal battis (cars with red beacons),” he said. “Why are the poor confined to powerlessness and poverty? Because the decision over their lives and the services they need are decided by people far away, answerable to them only in theory.”
“People who are corrupt stand up and talk about eradicating corrupt, people who disrespect women in their every day life talk about women’s rights.”
“We have to re-look at things in the system and we have to transform them completely,” Rahul Gandhi said.
The conclave in Jaipur comes ahead of a dozen state elections that will lead up to the general election due in 2014. It followed protests by the young and the middle class against alleged corruption in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Last month’s brutal assault and gang-rape of a student in a moving bus in Delhi also led to street protests and demands for tougher measures to deter crimes against women.
Rahul Gandhi struck an emotional note in calling for a transformation of the existing system. He said his mother came to his room in the night after naming him party vice-president and wept.
“She cried because she understands that power is actually a poison,” he said. “She could see what it could do to people around... We should not chase power for attributes of power. We should only see it to empower the voices,” the member of Parliament said.
Gandhi’s elevation as the No. 2 in the party and the conclave itself gave clear signals of a generational change in the 127-year-old party, which has been led by Sonia Gandhi since 1998.
The two-day brainstorming session attended by some 350 party leaders and the larger session on Sunday were to take stock of challenges before the party and prepare it for the electoral tests in the coming months.
Expectations of Rahul Gandhi within the party are high, said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm and investment riding on him,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi is not going to face any challenge from within the party because “there is no leader who has an independent political base on his own in the Congress”.
However, Mehta added, “Between now and 2014, the election will depend a lot on how the government will perform. The challenge will be how the government’s performance can be translated into the party’s gain.”
Earlier, Sonia Gandhi called on the party rank and file to work hard and close ranks ahead of the forthcoming elections.
“There is no reason that we should not return to power if Congress men work hard in unity,” Sonia Gandhi said on the third and final day of the party’s three-day conclave in Jaipur.
In an attempt to own the space for political empowerment of women, the Congress president said she will personally ensure the passage of legislation to provide 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies. Remembering the Delhi gang-rape victim, Sonia Gandhi, who devoted the initial part of her speech to gender issues, said her death “will not go in vain”.
The so-called Jaipur declaration, released after the meeting, emphasized the need for repositioning and reorganizing the party based on ideology and issues in preparation for the national election.
“The Congress recognizes that there is a new aspiration for advancement among the people, especially among the youth and the middle class,” the declaration said.
“The Congress pledges to speak for both the young middle-class India and the young deprived India. The party will be responsive to the new aspirations of the youth and will offer credible policies and programmes for them especially job creating programmes,” it said.