28th April 2018 0 By M. P. Joseph IAS (R)

I attended my first All India Congress Committee (AICC) Session last month.

It was of course the 84th Session of the All India Congress Committee. While for me it was my first ever AICC Session, it was for Sri. Rahul Gandhi, his first AICC Session after taking over as the President of the Indian National Congress.

What struck me as I first walked into the huge Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium this morning, was that the stage seemed quite unlike any stage set for a political party meeting. Usually at such meeting you can see a score or more of chairs on the dais, with one huge one reserved for the top honcho of the Party. But the 84th session of the AICC had no chairs on the stage. Just a single speaker’s lectern set at the Centre of the Stage and towards the front. The huge stage was empty otherwise.

At first, I thought that I had – like all novices – walked in to the venue too early and that the chairs would be put up on the dais later. But even when almost promptly at 10.00 Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and the top leaders of the Party walked in, there were no chairs on the dais. Instead Rahul, Sonia and all the top leaders of the party sat not on the dais, but like the rest of us in the main hall of the auditorium looking up at the dais.

Change was clearly visible in the party. And that is what the banners across the venue also said, CHANGE is NOW.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi was the first to speak. He spoke briefly – for just about 5 minutes – limiting himself to a few introductory opening remarks.

He has promised to make a full speech tomorrow to sum up the proceedings of the AICC.

I was seeing Sri. Rahul Gandhi in flesh and blood for the first time. Quite unlike what he is attempted to be made out to be, he came out as a very mature, intelligent young man, carefully measuring his words, ready to take on and lead the Congress and the Country to victory in 2019.

Rahulji seemed all set and ready to take the mantle of India’s Prime Minister next year and rearing to take India forward on it’s (by-now 4 year delayed) journey to growth with social justice.

Rahul Gandhi was clear that the future of the country and the future of India lay with the young. At the same time, he stressed that the old leaders of the party have contributed immensely for the party and the country with their life and sacrifice. His role, he said, would therefore be to provide the link and bring together the old and the young within the Party and the Country.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech was often interrupted by the crowds breaking out into cheers and victory calls.

Clearly there was new hope in the air for the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi spoke in the afternoon. Her confidence was palpable. And it conveyed instantly to the crowd. You could feel the electricity pass from her into and through the crowds.

These are crowds that had come from all across India, and consisted of Dalits and the down-trodden, the poor and marginalized, women and youth, Adivasis and the Upper Castes all bound by the idea of a resurgent unified India that the Congress is represents.

Sonia Gandhi spoke for over 15 minutes. There were repeated cheers as she spoke, being the only Congress President to have led it for 19 years, the longest ever.

My most powerful vignette of the day however, was the sight of an upper-caste Hindu somewhere from the Hindi belt – perhaps a Brahmin – complete with his long hair tied up in a kudumi and with the saffron Saivite caste-mark on his forehead, sitting cheek by jowl next to an old Muslim gentleman who was wearing a skull cap and a long tunic-like robe and both cheering widely as Soniaji spoke.

That represented to me not only what the Congress Party stood for, but what India was all about, the essence of the Idea of India.

Shashi Tharoor spoke about how Hindutva was an aberration of all that was Hindu and said the RSS and the VHP stood against everything Hindu and Indian. He spoke highly of the Professional’s Congress and how it was providing a political platform to professionals through the All India Professionals Congress that he had set up, to play a role in public life.

Sachin Pilot was another young speaker who transfixed the crowds. He spoke with great élan and poise and made his points with perfection and grace.

But if I were to choose my speaker of the day, the prize would without a doubt go to Jyothirmoy Scindia. The young Scindia kept the crowd enthralled with his shudh rhetorical Hindi, and even those who did not understand a word of Hindi, understood every word he said. Such were his skills and mesmerizing appeal.

For me personally, it was an incident that occurred during the lunch break that exemplified the soul of India. There were huge crowds waiting for lunch. It was hot and sweaty. I took my food – a couple of tandoori rotis and some dhal – and was walking away to find a table, when I realized that the heat and the thirst was having its effect on me. I was feeling dehydrated. I was beginning to feel faint. I sat down on the nearest chair I could find. I knew I was going to faint. I told the stranger, clearly a Punjabi, who was next to me that I was feeling faint.

The next I knew was that I was actually fainting. But then I could see the gentleman stand up and hold me, and a caring crowd gather around me. One person brought and give me glasses of water, another tried to fan me with a paper, another tried and turn a huge electric fan nearby towards me, another was meanwhile enquiring where I was from, while another was throwing water on my face to bring me around. I was in caring hands. A couple of young men, then took me to the Medical Centre near-by.

A caring crowd. A caring congress.

The second day belonged to Rahul Gandhi and only to Rahul Gandhi, who came in for his final Presidential Address promptly at 4.00 PM. And he spoke like leader he is. He spoke like his great grandfather Jawaharlal and his grandmother Indira, and with the energy and the passion of his father Rajiv. He kept the crowd enthralled with his oration for nearly an hour, pin drop silence interspaced with raucous and uncontrollable applause.

There was no doubt in my mind after I heard him speak the second day, the Rahul has inherited the best of three generations of his forbears.

And he has inherited the loyalty of a bunch of young Congress leaders Scindia, Pilot, Navjyot Singh Siddhu and a host of others who are taking the Indian National Congress in new and exciting directions.

Congress and the country has found its Leader for India’s new generation.

The Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium where the AICC is being held, was full to capacity and overflowing when Rahul spoke. The rainbow nation that India is, that holds together a wide spectrum of different people into one seamless nation, was on show in the stadium.

For me, attending an AICC Meeting for the first time, it was an electrifying experience and in spite of having fainted the first afternoon, an extremely exhilarating experience.

But most of all what I could feel there was the transfixing resurgence of the Congress, a palpable renaissance of the party and a confidence that 2019 belongs to the party and to the India that is Bharat

[The views, thoughts and ideas expressed in this blog post are that of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in this blog post do not reflect the views of Distinct Voices and Distinct Voices does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]