Jaipur: Rahul Gandhi`s elevation as Vice President dominated the three-day Congress brainstorming exercise that concluded here on Sunday signalling a generational change and a host of reforms in the ruling party at a time when Lok Sabha polls were just 15 months away.
The two-day Chintan Shivir as also the AICC meeting saw the young leader stealing the show amid clamour for giving him a "predominant" role in the party leading to a Congress Working Committee decision last night to appoint him as Vice President.
In fact, Rahul appeared to have become the theme of the meet with growing demand for replicating the reforms initiated by him in Youth Congress and NSUI in all other front organisations as also the parent body.
Interestingly, the party, which spoke of "unity of all secular forces" in the Shimla conclave in 2003 which led to the Congress coming to power at the Centre via the coalition route in May 2004, spoke on similar lines in the Jaipur declaration but was silent on allies.
"Congress calls on all secular and progressive forces of the country to unite in this ideological battle against those, who polarise and divide society," was a signal that the party heading the UPA experiment for last nine years is preparing for UPA III.
But Congress chief Sonia Gandhi gave a clear message at the Chintan Shivir that the party has to "strike a balance" between respecting alliances where it has tied up with other parties and "ensuring that the party`s rejuvenation is not compromised".
The conclave provided an opportunity to the Congress to finalise its prescription for the next Lok Sabha polls with the party signaling a shift in its priorities by laying greater emphasis on the urban middle classes and youths in view of the changing demographic profile of the country and shrinking rural space.
While Rahul Gandhi talked of taking a "relook at the system" and "transforming" things completely, Sonia Gandhi categorically said that "we cannot allow our growing educated and middle classes to be disillusioned and alienated from the political process".
The Jaipur declaration adopted at the AICC meeting today also said, "Congress acknowledges that there is a rising educated and aspirational middle class, especially in urban area. We will continue to create new opportunities for them and a climate conducive to their advancement."
Rahul, in his speech, signalled major changes in the working of the party but sought to allay apprehensions that he would ignore the seniors.
The Jaipur declaration gave an inkling of what was in the offing with the 56-point document making it clear that nepotism in the organisation`s structure is a cause of concern and wanted leaders to take responsibility in case of failure if they recommend a candidate.
Infact, youth was the flavor of the three-day exercise with the party chief herself calling for developing leadership at all levels, by identifying, promoting and training them.
"Engaging the youth more centrally to our organisation is necessary. Only in this way, we can develop and project our new leadership," Gandhi said.
The focus on the youth and the middle classes came after leaders like Digivijay Singh pitched for appropriate measures from the party as the changing demographic profile showed that those below 45 form the majority.
The AICC meeting saw fulsome praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from both Sonia and Rahul.
Summing up the central theme of the Jaipur Declaration, senior leader P Chidambaram said that it recorded the core ideology of the party that "Congress must fearlessly, proudly, stoutly hug the middle ground and claim to the sole representative of the vast majority of people".
"The vast majority of people occupies the middle ground," he said adding that it is only when we dilute this core ideology of Congress and turn to extreme left or extreme right that "we stumble".
In a move apparently aimed at developing new leadership at various levels, the Declaration restricted the number of terms for presidents of Pradesh Congress Committees and District Congress Committees to two and the tenure to be not more than three years.
Promising to create ten million jobs every year, the Declaration spoke about two Indias and pledged to speak for both the young middle class India and the young deprived India.
Describing the Declaration as an "important" document, the party chief in her concluding remarks said "if we follow the document, there can be no obstacle" to the Congress march to power.
"Congress will go to the people on the basis of performance of the Congress-led UPA government, the promise of stability and good governance and a restatement of its core values and ideology---secularism, nationalism, social justice, social cohesion and economic growth for all especially the Aam Admi representing the poor and the middle class," the Declaration said thereby redefining the party’s Aam Admi definition.