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2009 debate in Congress

New Delhi, May 21: At the end of one year in office, the Congress is already looking beyond the fifth.

If the Manmohan Singh experiment succeeds, the party leadership would not be averse to repeating it. But a section of the Congress wants Sonia Gandhi to speed up son Rahul’s grooming for future leadership.

Conscious of his “unique place” as an “appointed Prime Minister”, Singh is trying hard to keep as low a profile as he can.

Take the birthday bash, for instance. His advisers had suggested that the Prime Minister hold a news conference tomorrow to showcase his government’s achievements but the idea was shelved.

Party workers from Haryana and Punjab wanted Singh to enter the Lok Sabha from a seat in their states, but he politely declined. The Prime Minister said he was better off in the Rajya Sabha.

Singh’s efforts have been deeply appreciated by 10 Janpath. In the last few days that Sonia spent on taking stock, backed by internal feedback, she concluded that the government’s performance was up to the mark.

The Congress chief told close colleagues she hoped the United Progressive Alliance government would complete its term and dispel the impression that the grand old party is not keyed in to the concept of coalition dharma.

But some party leaders are not happy with this idea and claim that politics is too complicated to be guided by a strategy. They don’t, therefore, see the coalition working perfectly for the full term and want Sonia to expedite Rahul’s induction.

Several Congress Working Committee members privately envious of Singh’s rise are actively pushing for this. They would like Rahul to be given a responsibility in the party and then be inducted as minister in the Singh government, so that by 2009 he can be projected as the next leader.

In the guise of projecting a “young leadership” ' about half of India’s population is under 25, they argue ' these Congress leaders nurse the hope that Rahul will bring back the “good old days” when the Congress ruled alone.

However, sources close to Rahul said the GeNext Gandhi is not a young man in a hurry. Circumstances may have forced his father Rajiv Gandhi, but Rahul would like to go slow. Sister Priyanka, his closest adviser, agrees.

Both are convinced that greater familiarisation and hands-on experience would go a long way in equipping them for future assignments. Although he does not hold a post, Rahul has begun to get his toes wet in Uttar Pradesh politics.

Sonia has to avoid a clash of the two streams of thought in the party. If the UPA government delivers, it would get another term. If not, the Congress would have to look at other options. Preparations are on, either way.

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