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Has the 'opportune time' to name Rahul Cong's PM candidate come?

Last updated on: December 17, 2013 15:42 IST

Has the 'opportune time' to name Rahul Cong's PM candidate come?

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Anita Katyal

The recent assembly results and the subsequent developments have proved the Congress wrong on every count, including its strategy to avoid a direct face-off between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Anita Katyal reports

Although there is still no clarity if Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate at the All-India Congress Committee meeting in New Delhi on January 17, the leadership will come under increasing pressure in the coming days to make such an announcement at the earliest.

Senior Congress leaders were insistent that the forthcoming meeting is meant essentially to analyse the reasons for the party’s rout in the recent assembly polls, lay down the roadmap for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and boost the morale of its cadres who are obviously feeling dispirited after the Congress’s poor showing.

“It is just not the Congress style to make such announcements at an AICC meeting,” a senior Congress general secretary told rediff.com.

AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi dismissed the speculation as “illogical.”

But given the sycophantic nature of Congress workers, there will be a clamour from them in the weeks preceding the AICC meeting that Rahul be anointed as its PM candidate. 

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Has the 'opportune time' to name Rahul Cong's PM candidate come?

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Anita Katyal

This is exactly what had happened at the party’s Jaipur session earlier this year when there was an orchestrated demand that Rahul assume a larger role in the party organisation. He was named Congress vice-president at that meeting.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s recent statement that the party would name its prime ministerial candidate at “an opportune time” has added to the speculation that an announcement on Rahul Gandhi’s anointment is round the corner.

An AICC general secretary, known for his proximity to Rahul, told rediff.com that there is no ambiguity that the vice-president is the Congress party’s prime ministerial candidate, but it is only a question of when this announcement should and will be made. 

“It may not be made at the AICC meeting, but it could come later but definitely before the Lok Sabha elections,” the general secretary said, adding that it is also possible that the AICC meeting will authorise Sonia to make such a formal announcement at an appropriate time.

The present mood in the party was best summed by Congress spokesperson Priya Dutt at the daily media briefing on Monday where she made a strong pitch for projecting Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.

"Right now Congress party wishes that Rahul is projected as PM candidate... If this announcement is made, we all will be very happy. Right now there is a consensus in the party on his leadership... Today we feel people are looking at a face," she said, adding that though there is no formal announcement, there has “always been a subtle projection” of Rahul’s candidature.

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Has the 'opportune time' to name Rahul Cong's PM candidate come?

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Anita Katyal

The Congress has generally shied away from the formal projection of a chief minister or a Prime Minister but the changing nature of politics is forcing it to alter its stand.

“Unlike the past, it is imperative for us to project a face and it will be better for the party if we it so at the earliest,” a senior Congress minister told rediff.com.

The Congress has come under increasing pressure to name a PM candidate after the BJP anointed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as their man for the top job. On his part, Rahul has consistently maintained that he is not interested in the job and that his priority is to overhaul the Congress organisation.

The Congress had been skirting the PM issue primarily because it did not want to convert the coming Lok Sabha election into a presidential-style contest, which would witness a direct face-off between Rahul and Modi.

The Congress has, so far, insisted that next year’s general election is not a battle between individuals but between two ideologies.

As it happens, this argument is now wearing thin as there is a growing realisation in the Congress that there is no getting away from projecting a face -- even though party leaders privately admit that this puts them at a disadvantage as Modi has made a huge impression with the youth and middle classes while Rahul is lagging way behind.

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Anita Katyal

So far, the Congress strategy was not to focus on individuals but instead keep the spotlight on its various pro-poor measures -- like the Food Security Bill and the Land Acquisition Bill -- to connect with the electorate. Rahul’s speeches in the recent election campaign had, therefore, kept to this script.

Moreover, Congress leaders had hoped the fault lines within the BJP will come into play closer to the elections and that chief ministers like Shivraj Chouhan and Raman Singh, and senior leaders like L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi, who are not enamoured of Modi, would strike back.

Congress strategists had also hoped that a belligerent  RSS will push the BJP into giving primacy to its hardline Hindutva agenda, which could alienate the middle classes and win them the support the minorities.

The Congress has also maintained that the BJP will not be able to get the support of allies even if it wins anything between 180 to 200 Lok Sabha seats because of Modi’s divisive personality.

As it happens, the recent assembly results and the subsequent developments have proved the Congress wrong on every count. While the grand old party stands thoroughly discredited, questions are being raised about Rahul’s leadership qualities.

More importantly, allies are starting to desert the grand old party. The DMK has already said it will not have an alliance with the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP, on the other hand, is adding to its kitty of partners. It has been promised support by the Telugu Desam Party while a tie-up with the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana is also in the works.

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