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No surprise


On a day when the Congress – with its all important CWC meeting – ought to have hogged all the headlines, loudmouth Mani Shankar Aiyar made sure that Modi became the subject of sympathetic comment. AAP took its share, following its stand-off with the Delhi Police.

All the same, the much awaited event of the day was Rahul Gandhi’s address. Speculation ran through the media on what revolutionary remedies he would bring to the declining health of the party. The dry statistics offered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his faltering voice faced the usual first hurdle of a temperamental sound system. Party President Sonia Gandhi was her usual stern and indulgent mom self. What surprise would Rahul spring?

For one, he delivered a better written speech than earlier (in English). He was also much more articulate and communicated well in Hindi, perhaps inspired by a comfortable performance by Sachin Pilot some time before.

Most importantly, he made clear that he would be available for ‘any task that the party would give him’, after emphasising that the Congress would require MPs in the Lok Sabha to be able to choose its Prime Minister. So, there was no change in his mother’s line of not projecting a prime ministerial candidate. ‘Against tradition’, reiterated Rahul. But, if the Congress wins, he would be PM! Being available is tantamount to his candidature being declared and should serve as a message to the electorate. But a straight out, presidential contest with other hopefuls is out of the question.

His speech also contained the core of the ideological and more substantial content of the party’s election manifesto. The party had delivered much, he claimed; would try and get six important anti-corruption bills passed in the next three months; and would convince the people that it knew what had to be done and knew how to do it.

He targeted the BJP, of course, but as a measure of how far AAP has come, had some pithy words for that party. The BJP may not like AAP as a threat to its hoped for majority, but the Congress too is quite clear about the damage it can do. Significantly, the large group of other parties, which are likely to probably claim half the seats in the House, did not even get a mention. As always, Congress expects them to fall in when it comes time for government formation. The race is about being the party with the most number of MPs. The BJP is the main rival and AAP the primary spoiler.

Obviously, much thought had gone into the speech, which means the Congress is working hard in the back rooms on analysis, damage control and future strategy. Rahul’s entire speech glided around the fundamental issue of corruption, attempting to actually take credit for anti-corruption measures. It totally ignored the many charges the party has had to face on this issue, and the failure to act effectively. The opposition parties need to take careful note of this, as also the rest, because he articulated more or less the party strategy for the elections.

The pitch will be emotional, with the anti-communal stance being pushed as aggressively as the “Congress is in the nation’s DNA” argument. Those attending the CWC meet were patently relieved that the speech went off without a glitch, indeed seemed pleased at the outcome. For a party in the throes of despair, there was a glimmer of hope. But if, with his aggressive demeanour and charged-up rhetoric, Rahul had hoped for a spontaneous standing ovation, it did not come. The response was more like ‘chalo pass ho jayega, distinction bhi mil sakta hai’.