New Delhi: Senior leader A K Antony is expected to play a key role at Congress Chintan Shivir at Jaipur from Friday, the first major conclave of the party being held in the absence of Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and P V Narasimha Rao.
Number-2 in the government, Antony is highly regarded in the organisation for his plain-speaking and in the words of a CWC member for his "ability and strength to swim against the current" acquired through his integrity and loyalty.
Enjoying the confidence of both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, the Defence Minister has the habit of not mincing words to drive home a point, howsoever, unpalatable it might be for the high and powerful and the popular mood.
The recent example of this was the Dialogue Meeting of the party at Surajkund where Antony cautioned against going full steam on economic reform and had flagged his apprehensions regarding FDI in multi-brand retail at a time when the general mood in the Congress was to solidly back Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.
Antony heads the high-level sub-committee of the Chintan Shivir to go into the issue of Emerging Political Challenges besides heading a special sub-group on the issue of alliance as part of a separate panel chaired by Rahul for 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Sources said the sub-group headed by Antony for the Chintan Shivir has decided to focus on four points – major strategic challenges before 2014 elections, coalition in states, connecting with middle classes and greater synchronisation between the functioning and ideas of the government.
Mukherjee, who was widely known as UPA's troubleshooter and is now the country's President, was known for having reservation against coalitions. It led to the Panchmarhi conclave in 1998 taking an ambivalent attitude on alliances that coalitions are a 'transient' phase in Indian politics. Arjun Singh who had died over two years back, earlier used to propose or second political resolutions of the party.
Narasimha Rao is credited with ushering in economic liberalisation in the early 1990s when Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister.
The Jaipur meet has come at a time when the government has decided to go full steam with economic reforms and is expected to come out a populist budget in a please-all exercise ahead of the Lok Sabha polls just 16 months away.
The brainstorming session is being held at Jaipur nine years after the last such conclave at Shimla.
According to Congress leaders, the difference between earlier conclaves and the one at Jaipur was that earlier the Congress was on the offensive being in political wilderness at the Centre while this time, the meet is being held when it is at the helm for nine long years.