Delhi readies to host its sixth Congress plenary

By George Joseph, IANS
Sunday, December 12, 2010

NEW DELHI - For the sixth time - and the third time after Independence - the national capital will host the plenary session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in the party’s 125-year history. The three-day plenary will be held Dec 18-20.

“It will be a historic session. We, the party workers in Delhi, are engaged full time in the preparations,” Congress’ Delhi unit chief J.P. Agarwal told IANS.

The plenary, to be held at a specially set-up venue in Burari in northwest Delhi, will mark the completion of the year-long celebrations of the party’s 125th anniversary, he added.

“The Delhi meet will add a new chapter in the history of the Congress, which was in the forefront of the independence struggle. Congress’ contribution in the post-independence period will be highlighted in the meeting,” Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit told IANS.

The session was initially considered for Mumbai - where the party was born in 1885 - but the raging scandal over the Adarsh housing society, which led to the resignation of then Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, prompted the shift of venue, political circles say.

Delhi is hosting the AICC plenary session after a gap of 32 years. In 1978, Indira Gandhi presided over the AICC session in New Delhi. Held during the Janata Party’s rule, the meet saw another split in the Congress with Gandhi forming a new party, the Congress (I). Later, the Congress (I) was recognised as the Indian National Congress.

Before that, the Congress plenary was last held in Delhi in 1951.

Earlier, Delhi hosted Congress session in 1932, where Madan Mohan Malviya was elected president. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad presided over another session in New Delhi in 1923.

The first time New Delhi hosted a Congress plenary session was in 1918, six years after the capital of British India was shifted there from Kolkata (then Calcutta). Malviya was Congress president then too.

The party’s last plenary session - the 82nd - was held in Hyderabad in 2006 when Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) was the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Then, the Congress was basking under the glory of its return to power in 2004 after more than a decade with a strong showing in the state. But now the party is a divided house there, with Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of YSR (who died in an air crash in 2009), and YSR’s widow Vijaylaxmi quitting the party recently.

The picture is not rosy in other states too. In the October-November polls to the 243-member Bihar Assembly, Congress got just four seats, less than half of the nine it had won in 2005.

“Ups and downs in polls are are natural in the history of a great party. But the people want Congress to play an important role in the national politics,” Congress secretary Mohan Prakash told IANS.

But not everyone agrees.

“Congress has been degraded as a negative element in national political life, with its dynastic leadership and corrupt administration,” contended Javed Raza, a general secretary of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U).

“The contrast is clear,” Raza told IANS. “We (the JD-U-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance) have been voted back to power in Bihar on our record of good governance, while the central government led by Manmohan Singh is facing serious corruption scandals like the 2G spectrum scam and the Commonwealth Games scandal.

Prakash argued the Congress has taken “action when specific corruption issues have come up.” The resignation of Chavan and that of (minister of state for external affairs) Shashi Tharoor are examples,” he added.

Senior party leaders led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Defence Minister A.K.Antony are drafting three important resolutions - on political, economic and foreign affairs - to be presented at the meet, Prakash said.

Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi is also in the committee, he added.

The Delhi plenary comes after Italy-born Sonia Gandhi was September re-elected party president for the fourth consecutive time, making her the party’s longest-serving chief.

“That adds to the historic importance of Delhi AICC session,” Prakash said.

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