No decision has been taken to name Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate at Friday’s Congress conclave, party sources have told The Hindu. They say opinion is divided between those who believe nominating Mr. Gandhi would help the Congress’ prospects in the Lok Sabha elections, and those arguing a defeat could damage his long-term leadership potential.
The clearest indication of this reluctance came when general secretary Digvijaya Singh last Friday advocated caution on making the call. “In a parliamentary system, the leader of the party that secures a majority is chosen by newly elected MPs. And then he becomes Prime Minister… That is the age-old practice… However, party president Sonia Gandhi has given an indication on December 8… If the party wants to declare [the PM candidate], it is okay.” Indeed, frontal organisations, such as the Mahila Congress, that had planned to make a demand at the AICC session to nominate the young vice-president as the party’s prime ministerial nominee have been discouraged from doing so.
But while senior leaders are hesitant, the sources said the demoralised rank and file wanted the announcement. “When party workers go into the field, they are asked ‘who is your PM candidate’,” said a party functionary, adding that naming Mr. Gandhi would “galvanise party workers”. A halfway house is therefore being considered: like an incremental change in his designation — he could be appointed as working president as it is unlikely that he would be appointed as president to replace his mother. “Sonia Gandhi,” said a functionary, “is the leader who enjoys the greatest respect, affection and goodwill in the Congress today — she will continue in that post for now.” But whether he is named working president — or some such designation — it will be made clear that he will head the election campaign.
In any case, he heads the five-man Election Co-ordination Committee to “oversee all party activities related to the next elections” set up in November 2012, two months ahead of being named vice-president. At the time he was given the assignment, party leaders said it amounted to his being made the party’s campaign boss. On Wednesday, Mr. Gandhi also attended a meeting of the Congress Core Group, the party’s apex council, though informal, amid speculation that he would be drafted into it permanently. The discussions about Mr. Gandhi’s future also come in the wake of an interview he gave a Hindi daily on Tuesday, in which to repeated questions whether he was reluctant to be his party’s prime ministerial candidate, he said, “I am an active worker of the Congress party. I will follow whatever orders the party asks me to follow.”
Whether he was reluctant to take on greater responsibilities as he had once equated power with poison, he responded, “[That] doesn’t mean that I am not ready to take responsibilities. There is no such word as ‘reluctance’ in my life. ‘Power is poison’ is an observation which means danger and risks come along with power. We should not chase power for the attributes of power. We should use it only to empower the voices.”