The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rahul riddle for UP

April 25: Rahul Gandhi is apparently willing to dirty his hands in Uttar Pradesh but his party thinks the country needs him more.

In reply to a question whether he would “take care” of next year’s Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul said today: “If the leaders in my party request me to do that, yes I will.”

Delirious Congress loyalists jumped at Rahul’s remark ' made while campaigning for his mother Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli ' interpreting it as a statement of intent to lead the state unit. Breathing fresh life into the Congress in the heartland, where the party is in a shambles now, is the toughest assignment the high command can hand any leader.

Out of power for 16 years, the Uttar Pradesh leaders led the customary clamour. Mohsina Kidwai, a general secretary, called it “janata ki aawaz” (voice of the people) and state party president Salman Khursheed claimed the Congress would get a majority under Rahul’s leadership. For the Congress legislature party leader, Pramod Tewari, it was “Id, Holi and Diwali rolled into one for the party”.

However, the central leadership trod with caution, indicating that it would not like Rahul to be tied up in Uttar Pradesh as it is “more or less decided” he would lead the Congress in the 2009 general elections.

Ashok Gehlot, the Congress general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, suggested that the Amethi member of Parliament should be appointed a general secretary and put in charge of frontal organisations such as the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. “That will send a positive message to the youth,” he said.

If the country benefits from Rahul’s “youthful leadership”, Uttar Pradesh “will too”. “But he should not be confined to the state,” Gehlot hastened to add. Another general secretary, Digvijay Singh, echoed Gehlot.

But sources said Rahul could take an active interest in the affairs of the state unit without holding a formal post.

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