With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formally making the largely expected announcement of not seeking a third term in office, the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress’ PM candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections now appears to a mere formality, party sources said. Although there are still differences over the timing of his anointment, the sources said the party is inclined to end the uncertainty over the issue and hinted that a formal decision could be expected at the AICC session on January 17.
There is a realisation in the party that it will be beneficial to project a leader — while the main opposition party already has a prime ministerial face, the recent assembly elections too proved that going to polls with a leader can be helpful — and most Congress leaders are in favour of the party breaking from the practice of choosing its leader after the elections. The Congress, however, made it clear that Gandhi will not replace Singh for the rest of the term, scotching all speculation in this regard.
While the Congress said the increased visibility of its vice-president in recent days, the PM’s formal announcement and the announcement of the AICC session in mid-January were not scripted and argued the situation is still evolving, sources said the developments indicate a pattern. Hours after the PM’s announcement, senior Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi dropped strong hints that an announcement was on the cards as he said political parties also have to follow certain “rituals”.
The AICC session, sources said, could set the stage for the big announcement. “There will be huge pressure on the leadership from the delegates. Moreover, elections are just two months away. The argument will be that it is the appropriate time,” a senior Congress leader said. The Mahila Congress, the party’s women’s wing, for instance, is planning to move an official resolution at the session demanding that Gandhi be anointed as the PM candidate.
Dwivedi said the “entire party, the entire country and everyone know that after Sonia Gandhi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is supreme in the Congress” and “his name will be first and foremost whenever the question of prime ministership arises”. He said along with principles, political parties have to follow some rituals.
“These are formalities. How and when those formalities will be done and how a name will be announced, there is no scope for the party to say anything after the Congress president has made it clear that an appropriate decision will be taken at the right time and announced,” he said. A meeting of the Congress Working Committee — the highest decision-making body of the party — is scheduled on the eve of the AICC session to finalise the resolution for the meeting.
Dwivedi made it clear that Singh will continue as PM for the rest of the UPA II’s term, saying the party has always maintained that Singh will remain as PM till 2014 even when there was talk about his name being considered for the post of President in the past.
Significantly, Dwivedi rejected the contention that the party was wary of projecting Rahul Gandhi as the PM candidate since it was on the back foot, especially after the assembly elections rout, and a setback in the general election will lay the blame on him. “That is a narrow view... Defeats and victory are part of a democracy... A party like the Congress does not get too much elated or depressed after a victory or defeat,” he said.