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Congress divided over Rahul's nomination as PM

Last updated on: January 15, 2014 21:06 IST

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As the debate in the Congress over its vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s declaration as the party’s prime ministerial candidate continues to rage on, there is growing pressure from the rank and file that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should step down and the Nehru-Gandhi scion be sworn in his place. Anita Katyal reports

There is a large section in the party, especially among the younger leaders, which feels the Congress should go into the coming Lok Sabha election with Rahul as the prime minister since this will enable the party to distance itself from the United Progressive Alliance government’s negative image and project a new leader with  fresh ideas and vision.

The Congress has so far maintained that Manmohan will complete his current term in office.

VOTE! Do you REALLY think Rahul is ready for PM's post?

The prime minister had told a press conference earlier this month that that he would be handing over the baton to a new prime minister, hopefully from the UPA. He had also praised Rahul, stating that he had “ outstanding credentials” for the top job.

Since Manmohan ruled out a third term for himself, there is a growing clamour that Rahul Gandhi be named as the party’s PM pick at the January 17 meeting of the All-India Congress Committee.  It is felt that such an announcement will galvanise Congress workers ahead of the coming Lok Sabha election as their morale has hit an all-time low after the party’s rout in the recent assembly polls.

The results of the assembly elections and the PM’s announcement have intensified the debate in the party on Rahul’s projection. Even as a section in the party would like him to take over as PM before the elections, there is a group which feels that a declaration should be made at the AICC meeting while the old guard is of the view that there is no need to make such an announcement.

Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit refused to give any categorical answer on this burning issue. “There are different voices in the party but a final decision will be taken by senior leaders and the party’s working committee which is meeting tomorrow to discuss the issues which expected to come up at the AICC meeting,” he told media persons on Wednesday.

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Image: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi


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At the same time, he added, it is difficult to predict what will eventually happen at the meeting which is expected to resonate with “Rahul for PM” slogans.

While this debate is expected to continue till the AICC meeting, there is an overwhelming view in the Congress that some kind an announcement must be forthcoming on Friday.

If Rahul is not named PM candidate, he could be appointed as working president or chairman of the election campaign committee which will further underline his top position without  the need for a formal declaration.

Those who are not in favour of naming Rahul as PM candidate maintain this announcement should have been much earlier.

“It is too late now as our opponents (BJP’s PM candidate Naredra Modi) has a head-start over us as they have already held a series of rallies across the country to project their leader,” a senior Congress leader told rediff.com.

It is also being argued that a formal declaration on Rahul will unnecessarily convert the coming Lok Sabha election into a presidential-style contest with a heavy focus on personalities instead of a party’s ideology and programme.

Congress leaders privately admit that if a the general election becomes a “Rahul vs Modi” contest, the Nehru-Gandhi scion would be at a distinct disadvantage as the Gujarat strongman is a far better orator and has  a track record in governance which has endeared him to the urban middles classes and the youth.

AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh is the only leader who has expressed his reservations about making a break from the party’s convention by declaring a PM candidate before elections.

“I have been consistently saying that we are a parliamentary democracy and here it is not a contest between key personalities. It's a contest between policies, ideologies and programmes of parties…debate about Rahul versus Narendra Modi, Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul versus Modi versus Kejriwal is to do with TRP readings of the electronic media,” Digvijaya Singh has told media persons.

On the other hand, it is argued that if the party fails to declare Rahul as the PM candidate, it will only give the impression that the Congress is running away from a fight and has chickened out.

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Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Rahul


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“Today people want to know who they are voting for…in the absence of a face we may lose out. Why should we shy away from a battle,” a Congress office bearer told rediff.com, “If Rahul is named, what is transparent will then become apparent, “ A Congress minister pointed out, adding that since it is already known and accepted by Congress cadres that Rahul is the party’s future leader, an announcement is only a formality.

In fact, a senior Congress leader said he would be surprised if such an announcement is not made on Friday. Sonia Gandhi’s recent assertion that a PM candidate would be named at an “appropriate time” followed by Manmohan’s announcement ruling himself out of the race, is a pointer that Rahul’s anointment is on the anvil, he pointed out.   

Besides this declaration, delegates at the AICC meeting will also be seeking greater clarity on inflation and corruption, the two issues which were responsible for the party recent electoral rout.

The party will showcase the action-plan drawn out at the chief ministers’ meeting, convened by Rahul Gandhi recently on these specific issues, to underline that the Congress vice-president had stepped in to address their grievances.

Concerned over rising prices which have impacted households, Rahul had urged chief ministers of Congress-ruled states to take immediate steps to curb price rise. He had subsequently written to them, urging them to move faster to meet the deadline.

The AICC meeting will be informed told that following Rahul’s intervention there had been significant drop in prices of fruits and vegetables after Congress-governed states took steps to de-list fruits and vegetables from the APMC Act, as agreed with the party vice-president last month.

This, it will be said, will lead to further dampening of inflation, which eased to a five month-low of 6.16 per cent in December.

The states which have de-listed fruits and vegetables from APMC Act include Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Assam, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Mizoram, and Haryana -- where the Congress is in government either on its own majority or with alliance partners.

States such as Manipur and Kerala were not required to make any changes as they had not implemented the Act. The removal of fruits and vegetables from the APMC Act makes it easier for the farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers and reduce the price burden on housewives.

Besides asking Congress chief ministers to ensure the passage of the Lokayukta Bill in their states by February-end, Rahul Gandhi had  had also asked them  to invoke the Essential Commodities Act to stop hoarding, black marketing and profiteering and implement public distribution system reforms to eliminate leakages and ensure that food reaches targeted beneficiaries.


Image: Supporters of Congress President Rahul Gandhi
Photographs: Reuters

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