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Why is Rahul Gandhi undecided on his projection as PM

By Anita Katyal
December 24, 2013 22:38 IST
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Though there is a full-throated clamour in the Congress that party vice-president Rahul Gandhi be formally named as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Nehru-Gandhi scion is personally not convinced that his projection will yield electoral dividends. Anita Katyal reports.

Sources close to Rahul told  that the party vice-president has questioned the need for announcing his candidature before the general elections as he is not sure “if it will really help” the party.

Rahul’s ambivalence on this issue has put a question mark on a possible announcement in this regard at the January 17 meeting of the All-India Congress Committee in Delhi which will be attended by over 2,500 delegates.

While Congress strategists continue to grapple with this issue, it is unlikely to stop participants from pressing ahead with their demand at next month’s AICC meeting.

Similar scenes were witnessed at the Jaipur session earlier this year when there was a clamour from the floor that Rahul play a larger role in the party. He was subsequently named party vice-president at that meeting.

Knowing the sycophantic nature of the Congress cadres, an action replay of what was witnessed at Jaipur is very much on the cards. Given the strong sentiments in the party on this issue, Congress president Sonia Gandhi would have given in to the demand of the workers.

But there is a rethink on this matter since Rahul is personally not sure this is a wise decision. It is also possible that the AICC meeting may authorise Sonia to take a call on this issue at an appropriate time.

Despite Rahul’s views on the subject, Congress leaders believe his projection is long overdue.  Even the party’s old guard, which has always taken the traditional Congress position that a prime minister or a chief minister is decided by elected representatives after the elections, is now veering around to the view that this strategy should change.

The party’s humiliating defeat in the recently-concluded assembly elections has forced the Congress to rethink its position on the leadership issue. There is an overwhelming view in the Congress that its decision not to project a chief ministerial candidate was among the various factors which contributed to its recent electoral debacle.

While the Congress ran a “faceless” campaign, the Bharatiya Janata Party projected  strong and reputed state leaders for the top job.

It’s the same story which is unspooling at the Centre. While the BJP took went ahead and anointed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial contender, the Congress is dill-dallying on this issue although it is an acknowledged fact in Congress circles that Rahul is the party’s face.   

“Of course, Rahul is the party’s future leader but as Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already said the announcement on the party’s prime ministerial candidate will be made at an opportune time,” All India Congress Committee general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said when questioned about the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s projection.

As the Congress dithers, Modi has stolen a march over the grand old party in connecting with the people. 

While the debate on “Rahul for PM” will intensify as the date for the AICC meeting draws closer, Rahul has become increasingly proactive in party matters after the recent poll debacle while Sonia has gradually reduced her work-load.

After making a concerted effort to appear more ”communicative” through  interactions with the media and the corporate  sector following the recent assembly polls,  the party vice-president has now convened a special meeting of chief ministers of Congress-ruled states on December 27 to prepare for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

While Sonia has presided over several such meetings of party chief ministers in the past, this is the first time that Rahul has taken the initiative. It is seen as yet another indicator that the party vice-president is enlarging his responsibilities beyond organisational matters.

There is no certainty if Sonia will attend the day-long deliberations but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will definitely stay away from it on the plea that it is a “party meeting.”

Union Minister P Chidamabaram, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Union Minister for Food and Consumer Affairs KV Thomas, Union minister for Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, general secretaries in charge of the states and other senior party leaders will participate in the meeting.

 “Price rise and the implementation of the Lokpal Bill are the two key issues on the agenda,” Dwivedi told media persons on Tuesday, adding that since the Lokpal Bill was passed recently in Parliament, the meeting will discuss the road map ahead for the implementation of the Bill in the states.

Having been at the receiving end for a series of scams, the Congress wants  to demonstrate that it is serious about combating corruption by implementing the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bills.

With price rise being singled out as a key contributing factor for the for the party’s rout in the recent elections, this issue will figure prominently at the CM’s meeting as they collectively  attempt a course correction in the run-up to the general election.

The meeting will review the situation in each state, look at the measures taken to contain inflation and the future plan of action. Other issues which will figure in the meeting include the implementation of the Right to Food scheme and effective communication about the government’s flagship programmes.

The Congress currently has chief ministers in 12 states: Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Meghalya, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. It recently lost two states: Delhi and Rajasthan.

The December 27 meeting will be followed by  the January 17 AICC session which will set the tone for the general election. The omnibus resolution being drafted by a seven-member committee headed by Defence Minister A.K.Antony, will provide insights and a direction to the rank and file about the party’s position on the current political situation and economy.

The other members of this committee are Union ministers P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Anand Sharma, External Affairs Minister Salman Khrushid, Jairam Ramesh and Rahul’s key advisor Mohan Gopal.

Given that the morale of the party rank and file has hit a new low after the recent assembly elections, the AICC meeting will  attempt to re-energise”  the workers and prepare them for the big electoral battle ahead.

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Anita Katyal in New Delhi