Unlike Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who is wearing his heart on his sleeve and lobbying hard to be declared as Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate in the run up to the general elections in 2014, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has gone public with a “I am not interested in the prime minister’s post” message, knowing full well there is a huge clamour within the Congress for him to become the next prime minister in the event that the party and its allies get enough seats to put a government in place after the next general elections.
Congress leaders claim that unlike the tune being played out by television channels “which believe in the philosophy of superficiality”, Rahul Gandhi has nowhere send the message that he is running away from becoming prime minister. “He is being seen as cautious as opposed to the impatience being displayed by Modi,” a Congress leader said.
“Along with that Rahul Gandhi also wants to ensure that the Congress grows and expands enough in the states to be able to drive a tough bargain with its allies (and potential allies) and this can only be done once the state units are strengthened and infighting minimises,” the leader pointed out.
In an informal interaction for over an hour with MPs in the Parliament on Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi was at pains to play down his prime ministerial ambitions, saying he was interested in building the Congress party for the upcoming general elections and that the prime minister’s post was not his priority.
He said he came from a family which had given many prime ministers to the country and a family which had seen a huge amount of power. He noted that his mother Sonia Gandhi could have been the prime minister any time she wanted, but she chose not to be so.
The leader said he wanted to prepare at least 200 leaders in the Congress, both at the national and the state level, who could run the party, adding that he was against the “high command culture” and wanted to decentralise the party and its decision-making.
Rahul said the centralisation of power in the Congress happened in the 70’s at the time of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she was under attack from all sides. He pointed out that he had watched her and known her well and said he would have done the same thing if he was in her place.
Rahul Gandhi said there are parties run by one individual (Bahujan Samaj Party), by two individuals (Samajwadi Party), by 4-5 leaders (the BJP) and by 20 leaders (the Congress).
Rahul Gandhi also said he believed in long-term politics and wanted to strengthen the party rather than focusing on power.
It is interesting that while saying this, he has been meeting the UPA allies like Sharad Pawar, Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi as well potential allies like Lalu Prasad Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal and others with the intent of strengthening the alliance at this juncture, and with the full realisation that the Congress cannot go it alone in the elections, as it does not have the required strength in a number of states.
Congress leaders are seeing Rahul Gandhi’s statement in the context of a mature leader who does not want to announce himself as a prime ministerial candidate and then find that the party does not have the numbers to form the government.
Gandhi made it clear that Dr Manmohan Singh will remain the prime minister till the 2014 elections, but refused to give out his mind on who would be the prime minister after that if the party came to power.
In his continuing stream of interactions within the party, Rahul Gandhi will have one more round of discussions and interactions with the All India Congress Committee general secretaries, secretaries and state incharges on Wednesday evening, even as he has begun to meet party MPs from various states to understand where the Congress stands in the context of a Lok Sabha election.