Congress gets reality check from the grassroots

February 10th, 2009 - 11:37 am ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, Feb 10 (IANS) Ahead of the make-or-break Lok Sabha elections, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is battling with grassroot anger within a party eager to retain power for another five years.

As Sonia Gandhi and her son, party general secretary Rahul Gandhi, try to steer the country’s oldest party into another Lok Sabha battle, activists drawn from all over the country complain they are getting a raw deal.

Their anger poured into the open, stunning party leaders, at a meeting of thousands of Congress activists at the Ram Lila Maidan here Sunday.

Party members mainly in their 30s and 40s drew several rounds of applause as they spoke out against the party bosses who, they alleged, conveniently forgot them after every election.

Ummed Sheikh, a Congress block president from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, was heard in silence when he declared that most party leaders won election on the strength of the Gandhi family’s appeal.

“No Congress government in any state, except Sheila Dikshit’s in Delhi, has won elections on the basis of performance,” thundered Sheikh, speaking in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu.

And turning his face towards an attentive Sonia Gandhi, who was seated along with other party veterans on a raised platform, he added: “They have just used the name of your family, Madam. Ministers travel in their cars with red (beacon) light but don’t listen to party workers.”

As he stated this, the wild clapping that broke out continued for a long time. The senior Gandhi was among those who clapped, although mildly, when he finished his speech.

Sheikh was not the only one to vent his ire.

Khanam Naseem Akhtar, a Congress activist from Madhya Pradesh, blamed senior leaders of the party for the electoral humiliation in the state in the November-December assembly elections.

“Our party lost because of the ego problems of some senior leaders in the state. They didn’t want party workers to get empowered,” Akhtar said.

Indu Sinha from Purnea in Bihar complained that the party favoured the money bags.

Party activists said it was high time the Congress, the country’s oldest political party, provided due weightage to them, checked the dominance of a few, and promoted younger leaders.

Several party members drawn from small towns and villages profusely thanked Sonia Gandhi for giving them a chance to speak freely and frankly. A few sang songs hailing her, making her blush.

Sonia Gandhi, who was clearly the favourite of the mass gathering, as well as her senior colleagues heard the workers in rapt attention.

Occasionally, Sonia Gandhi, widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi took down notes.

Congress general secretary B.K. Hariprasad explained that the purpose of bringing together the party rank and file was to get valuable inputs from them and to fine-tune the electoral strategy.

Sonia Gandhi assured the mass of party members that the Congress was alive to their concerns.

“You have given valuable suggestions. They are valuable not only for the coming elections but also for the party. I am aware of your complaints and problems,” she said, igniting more clapping.

She declared that there was no place in the Congress for those who try to secure election ticket by pulling the right strings.

“Quotas and a patronage system must not have a role to play in ticket distribution,” she said, speaking mostly in Hindi but ending her address in English.

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