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Rahul Gandhi takes charge of top party job at Congress

A shiny new brass nameplate outside the Congress president’s office at 24, Akbar Road marked a change in more ways than one on Saturday as Rahul Gandhi took charge of the top party job. 

Not only will the office now be the nerve centre of the party’s national organisation, but also its new occupant is expected to usher in a new era of ‘proactive, responsive’ politics ensuring there is ‘accountability’ of the senior leadership and an audit of its performance. 

‘Generational shift’ has been the buzzword in the party headquarters over the past few months as the entire party rank and file looks at Rahul to pull it out of a long-standing inertia. 

‘Those appointed to positions of responsibility will have to deliver. One could expect a social audit of work performance henceforth. It is not as if you are a general secretary and you can keep sitting in Delhi. 

Newly-elected President of the Indian National Congress party Rahul Gandhi (L) listens as his mother and former party President Sonia Gandhi (R) offers him a seat during a ceremony at the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 16, 2017

‘It is about how much time you spend on the ground in the states. Close monitoring of work performance and competence in terms of delivery will be done,’ All India Congress Committee (AICC) national spokesperson Tom Vadakkan told Mail Today.

A senior party functionary, who spoke of condition of anonymity, added: ‘It is not enough to be just appointed to a post, one needs to perform too. Accountability is the key here.

‘Rahul ji has been very clear that those leaders, young or old, who have been working in the national capital, should make it a point to travel more across the country and get a feel of the pulse of the people. It is important for leaders to know the real issues and connect with them.

‘Over the past few months, several leaders have been pushed out of their comfort zones and sent out to the states. This has helped use the expertise of these leaders more effectively and has breathed life into the state units that were so far neglected.’

Rahul Gandhi meeting members of the public

Rahul Gandhi meeting members of the public

Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot pointed out: ‘Rahul ji believes that the party’s revival will be through the states. There will be more effort in winning them back. Gujarat is a big example where he has changed the narrative. Whatever the poll results might be, the way Rahul Gandhi campaigned, it has rattled the BJP, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi. We fought to win there.’ 

Apprehension about whether, when Rahul came to power, it would result in the sidelining of the old guard, and see a push for younger leadership, seems to have been dispelled to some extent. 

While Rahul himself maintained during his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday that, ‘we will make this the Grand Old and Young Party’, senior leaders told Mail Today that the politician has been trying to send out clear signals that there is ‘space for everyone’. 

Tom Vadakkan said: ‘There is no old and new… not that the new generation comes to take over. Experienced leaders have been working. There will be a mix of experience and energy.

‘He has had exposure to different leaders over the years and understands the party well. No other Congress president had this opportunity to learn on the job. He has energised the NSUI, Youth Congress and now has a good understanding of state units. 

‘Take for example Kerala. He understands the various groups and what senior leaders of the party hold in terms of groupism.’ 

Rahul has made his intentions clear

Rahul has made his intentions clear

New Congress president Rahul Gandhi

New Congress president Rahul Gandhi

The changes in his social media posturing and an aggressive and prompt counter of the Opposition’s propaganda too is high priority, leaders said. 

Sachin Pilot said: ‘While there will be more checks and balances and accountability, the other area of focus will be quicker responses. The party needs to adapt to the changing times and cannot obviously function the way it did 20 years ago. The responses will be more robust and timely.’ 

Facing the uphill task of reviving a moribund party, Rahul on Saturday made his intentions clear and immediately hit out at the BJP after taking over, accusing it of spreading hatred and violence: ‘They break, we unite. They ignite fire, we douse it. They get angry, we love,’ he said.

Quelling rumours around her political debut with the 2019 general elections, Rahul Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Vadra on Saturday said that Sonia Gandhi will contest from Raebareli and not her. 

She added: ‘My mother is the bravest woman I’ve seen… she will be contesting the 2019 elections from Raebareli, not me.’ 

Although Priyanka has long been associated with Raebareli, having campaigned extensively from her mother’s constituency in Uttar Pradesh, she said: ‘There’s no question of me contesting from there.’ 

Priyanka Gandhi with husband Robert Vadra on Saturday

Priyanka Gandhi with husband Robert Vadra on Saturday

With this, she also put to rest murmurs about the Congress supremo retiring from active political life. 

Meanwhile, Congress leaders hastily clarified that Sonia has retired from the party president post only and continues to remain an MP. 

On Saturday, while stepping down as Congress president, Sonia in an emotional farewell, lauded Manmohan Singh’s contribution towards the country, party workers’ support, and exuded confidence about the change in guard. 

Recalling her tenure as Congress chief, Sonia admitted she was ‘nervous’ when she became the party president in 1998.

After running the ship for 19 years, Sonia Gandhi on Saturday stepped down from her position as Congress president in a bittersweet farewell. 

Taking the wheel from her was son Rahul Gandhi, who is now the 49th president of the 132-yearold Indian National Congress. 

It was a big moment for the party, which is not having the best of times politically with only eight out of 29 states under its reign. And it was a big moment for Rahul too, who now has some big shoes to fill. 

However, in the middle of the very serious political event, a beautiful mother-son moment was captured. As cameras rolled and clicked away at his swearing-in, an emotional Rahul was seen kissing his mother on the forehead on the stage. 

Newly-elected President of the Indian National Congress party Rahul Gandhi (L) kisses his mother and former party President Sonia Gandhi during a ceremony at the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 16

Newly-elected President of the Indian National Congress party Rahul Gandhi (L) kisses his mother and former party President Sonia Gandhi during a ceremony at the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 16

Sonia was made party president in 1998. Rahul is the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi family to lead the Congress. 

In an emotional speech, Sonia called the assassination of former PM Indira Gandhi akin to the loss of her own mother and that of Rajiv Gandhi as the ‘snatching away of my life support’. 

On Saturday, passing on the mantle to Rahul, she said Congress should set its house in order while readying for any sacrifice to stop communal forces.