New Delhi: Friday's Samvad Baithak (dialogue session) of the Congress at Surajkund in Haryana will give Rahul Gandhi his first formal opportunity to assess the performance of ministers, though he has been looking into the party organisation's work in most of the states for the past few months.
One of the key topics for Friday's rare conclave is an assessment of the implementation of the promises made in the 2009 manifesto, apart from the usual discussions on politics and the economy.
Sonia Gandhi had introduced a system of micro-management of manifesto implementation in states through annual chief ministers' conferences but this is the first such exercise for the central government.
A section of the party leadership felt Rahul should have undertaken this exercise after his formal appointment as number two but others contended his de facto status need not be announced to enable him to take over the reins of the party.
The formal restructuring of the party has now been delayed but Rahul will also have to prioritise the government’s agenda, keeping a balance between electoral compulsions and economic logic.
Several party leaders have felt for long the need for better communication with the government.
According to these leaders, an analysis of the government's performance should cause serious concern to the Congress leadership. Unlike in its first term when the delivery rate was impressive, UPA II has failed in implementing its big promises, this section feels.
While the striking features of the 2009 manifesto, such as the food security bill, have not yet been achieved, other important promises like introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) and women’s reservation are still hanging fire.
Like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), the Congress wanted to make the food security bill the signature tune of its future campaign. The section of the leaders feel the Aadhar programme to give an identity card to every citizen, which could have helped the government fully adopt the direct cash transfer of subsidies to the targeted beneficiaries, should be speeded up.
The government has also fallen short of targets in opening 30 central universities, 20 Indian Institutes of Information Technology and 374 colleges in educationally deprived districts. The promise to add one more model school in every block is also awaiting implementation.
Other promises like providing health insurance to all BPL families, connecting every village to a broadband network, universalisation of the Integrated Child Development Scheme, special quota for minorities, reservation in the private sector, rural electrification and boosting nuclear power have not been fulfilled.
The failure to ensure high economic growth and low inflation has added to the perceived disenchantment of other sections of the population.
Both Sonia and Rahul are expected to ask the Congress ministers to speed up work in their ministries. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P Chidambaram are expected to speak exhaustively on economic challenges. But most senior leaders are itching to speak plainly on the feared electoral fallout of the decision to cap the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders at six a year.
The meeting will be attended by 35 representatives each from the government and the party. While all Congress cabinet ministers (23) and ministers of state with independent charge (12) will represent the government, 19 regular CWC members and 16 permanent invitees will be from the party.
The six-hour dialogue will not break for lunch.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta