With party facing flak on price rise and corruption, Rahul Gandhi on Friday asked Congress Chief Ministers to get into action mode on the two "core" issues as he vehemently disapproved Maharashtra government's decision to reject a judicial commission's report on Adarsh scam that indicted some party leaders including former CMs.
With a clear realisation in the party that price rise did them in in the recent assembly elections, which saw Congress being decimated in Delhi and Rajasthan which it ruled, the Congress Vice-President prescribed policy prescriptions including delisting fruits and vegetables from existing APMC Act, PDS reform and stern action against blackmarketeers and hoarders.
"All Congress-ruled states will enact new Lokayuktas legislation as provided in the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act 2013 by February 28," said the agenda of immediate and time bound action agreed upon after the meeting with 12 Chief Ministers and top leadership of the party.
Gandhi was hammer and tongs against Congress-NCP government's decision on Adarsh issue asserting "there is no question of protecting anybody".
"I do not agree with that decision. The Maharashtra government should reconsider that decision....As far as Adarsh is concerned, there is no question of protecting anybody," Gandhi said responding to a question on whether he does not see a dichotomy between his talk about fighting corruption and the step by his own government in the state to reject the report of a duly constituted panel on Adarsh scam.
Gandhi's disapproval this time was not a reaction in a huff as was evident some months back when he had slammed the Centre's decision to bring out an ordinance on the convicted lawmakers saying it should be torn and thrown away in the dustbin. The Ordinance was finally withdrawn.
Though Gandhi's tone and tenor was a bit persuasive this time, party sources say that the impact will the same as there is a perception that the act of rejecting the Adarsh report by the Maharashtra government is making the party's talk on corruption sound hollow.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said after the press conference that he will consult his Cabinet colleagues and decide the next course of action.
With the election defeats in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh rankling it, the party is keen to work out the strategy to retain the states where it is in power at present as there seems little possibility of it doing very well in the states already ruled by BJP as the recent assembly elections showed.
Having lost the polls in Delhi and Rajasthan, Congress is currently in power in 12 states--- Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala and Meghalaya.
While BJP bettered its performance in Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh, it managed to retain Chhattisgarh despite Congress doing well in Bastar riding over a sympathy wave after the Maoist massacre of its leadership.
The margin with which BJP wrested power from it in Rajasthan has also come as a surprise for Congress. In Delhi while BJP managed to somewhat weather the AAP storm, Congress was virtually wiped out.
So "home is where we gather grace" seems to be mantra of the meeting as the party is keen to retain Congress-ruled states.
The role of strong Chief Ministers like Virbhadra Singh in Himachal Pradesh, Tarun Gogoi in Assam, Siddaramiah in Karnataka and Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana could be important.
The meeting saw a number of Chief Ministers doing the plain speak saying that rising prices of essential commodities could hurt the party's prospects and there is a need to correct the image on the issue of corruption.
Not surprisingly, three of the five suggested actions after the meeting related to controlling prices while the PDS reform plan mooted is aimed at ensuring a smooth roll out of Food Security scheme, which the UPA treats as a "game changer" for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
AICC Communication Department Chairman Ajay Maken said that the emphasis on PDS reforms is aimed at reaching the benefits of the scheme to the intended beneficiary and stop leakages, an AICC leader said.
Party-ruled Haryana and Uttarakhand were among the first to launch the scheme.
That Gandhi wants the party-ruled states to go tough on the issue of hoarding was evident as the party decided to invoke Essential Commodities Act 1955 to deal sternly with hoarding, blackmarketing and profiteering.
"Chronic offenders may also be detained under the Prevention of Black-marketing and Maintenance of Supplies of Essential Commodities Act, 1980, " the party said in a press release.
"All Congress-ruled states will by January 15 delist the fruits and vegetables from their respective Agricultural Produce Markets Committee (APMC) Acts so that the farmers have a choice of where to sell their produce and consumers will get the benefit of lower prices," Maken said, as Gandhi sought to work out a strategy to woo voters.
"All Congress-ruled states will immediately implement the reforms of the Public Distribution System (PDS) that are stipulated in the National Food Security Act, 2013 so as to eliminate leakages and to ensure that food grains reach the intended beneficiaries," he added.
Immediately after the results of the Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were out, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had listed price rise as an issue that could have led to the rout of the party in these states.
Addressing a FICCI conference, Rahul Gandhi had also flagged concerns over price rise and noted that tackling inflation was the top priority.
While Gandhi's public disapproval of Maharashtra government rejecting the Adarsh panel report took many by surprise, Congress sources said that the issue was creating discomfiture in the party's rank and file as the step looked incongruous with the high moral ground the top party leadership was seeking to take on the issue of corruption in last few months.
"If the Adarsh Committee report raises questions, we should investigate, answer them & not be hush!," Union Minister Milind Deora, who is a close aide of Rahul Gandhi had tweeted a few days back adding to the grapevine that the Congress Vice President may trash the state government's decision.
Deora had earlier tweeted against the Ordinance on convicted lawmakers, which was believed to have been done with Gandhi's consent as soon after he publicly denounced it.
Rahul Gandhi's role in party affairs has substantially increased after he was made the party Vice President during the Congress Chintan Shivir in January this year.
His chairing this meeting of Chief Ministers to work out a strategy for the Lok Sabha polls is a further indication of the centrality of his role in Congress politics ahead of the general elections