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Future fine, past tense
- Rahul gets PM seal, draws 1971 fire

April 15: Rahul Gandhi is the future, the Prime Minister declared on a day the scion’s apparently calculated comments on the past raised dust within and without the country.

“Rahul Gandhi is your future. He is sweating it out for you,” Manmohan Singh told an election meeting in Uttar Pradesh today.

The Prime Minister’s prognosis was made in the context of the Pradesh polls. Congress sources, however, were quick to read it as a confirmation of the succession plan that could see Rahul leading the party in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

That Rahul would take over one day was never in doubt, but the sources said the Prime Minister might have been “advised” to lend his voice to that perception. In the election speech, Manmohan focused on the Gandhi family instead of his government’s achievements.

Manmohan’s statement came on a day Rahul’s own references to the Gandhis led to the charge that he was usurping for his family the entire credit for the freedom movement and the division of Pakistan.

“Members of the Gandhi family have achieved the goals they have initiated like the freedom of the country, dividing Pakistan into two and leading the nation to the 21st century,” Rahul had said in Bareilly last evening.

Bareilly is a BJP stronghold and Rahul’s statement could have been aimed at criticism that the Congress-led Centre is presiding over a “soft state”. But it follows a pattern of unconventional comments the young MP is fast acquiring a reputation for.

The comment — which goes against the official Indian stand that it had no role in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, though few would take it at face value — drew a claim of vindication from Pakistan and a burst of derision from political parties in India.

Congress sources said the purpose of Manmohan’s pronouncement of Rahul as Uttar Pradesh’s “future” was to prepare the ground for him to be credited with “victory” if the party won 40-odd seats.

Party functionaries said the Congress, which won 33 of the 403 seats in 2002 but was left with 16 after several splits, would be happy with 40 to 50 seats, a higher vote share and the possible role of a “kingmaker” in a hung Assembly.

Not that the party hasn’t built cushions if it missed the target. Rahul has been repeatedly saying his roadshows in the state were not expected to yield miracles overnight.

Like Rahul, Priyanka also caused a flutter by suggesting that she might enter politics. “Wait for 10 more years before I enter active politics,” she said in Amethi, a mischievous smile lighting up her face and leaving others to figure out whether she was joking.

Congress sources suggested she was playing a strong backroom role — that of deciding the “what” of her brother’s statements. The “when” and “where” are reportedly being decided by Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and family loyalist Satish Sharma.

A few days ago, Manmohan had appeared to differ with Rahul’s implied criticism of P.V. Narasimha Rao over the Babri demolition by describing the late Prime Minister as a “sanyasi” in politics.

Today, the Prime Minister accused leaders of non-Congress governments of ruling “only for themselves and their family members”.

He kept himself entirely in the background. When he brought in his government, he was careful to speak only of its social sector initiatives “being done under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi”.

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