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PM? Right answer to wrong question

- Rahul steers clear of bait, party sees plan to stand apart from Modi

New Delhi, March 5: Rahul Gandhi today said asking him if he wanted to be Prime Minister was “a wrong question”, prompting senior leaders to debunk speculation of a sacrifice replay and suggest that he was positioning himself as far apart from Narendra Modi as possible.

“Asking me whether you want to be the Prime Minister is a wrong question. My priority is to strengthen the Congress, to change the political culture, to create strong leaders at all levels, to empower leaders at the middle-level,” Rahul told MPs during an informal interaction at the Central Hall of Parliament.

The statement created ripples in the party though he had expressed such views on several occasions in the past.

As an impression gained ground that Rahul, too, was in sacrifice mode like his mother Sonia Gandhi, party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said: “All Congress workers want Rahul Gandhi to be Prime Minister and we will achieve this dream one day. If Rahul does not aspire to be Prime Minister, that is his view but we want him to lead the country.”

The spokesperson added: “Who will be the Prime Minister will be decided by the elected representatives after the election. But we have a leader who doesn’t run after posts and power when leaders are fighting to be projected as the Prime Minister candidate in other parties.”

The explanation hints at a game plan aimed at highlighting the alleged scramble for power in the BJP and potential third-front parties that are flooded with prime ministerial aspirants.

The overt positioning is particularly an antidote to the flutter around Narendra Modi, whose recent pronouncements are being seen as an attempt to project himself as the NDA candidate for Prime Minister.

A Congress strategist told The Telegraph: “Rahul has never shown any inclination to become Prime Minister. His reluctance has been a problem for the party. But even as a matter of strategy, he cannot declare himself the prime ministerial candidate. We don’t want to undermine Manmohan Singh’s position. We have to see how many seats the UPA wins and then explore if Rahul is ready.”

Interacting with the MPs, Rahul explained that his family had seen many Prime Ministers and his mother, too, could have become one had she wanted but there is no lust for power in the family.

He stressed on democratisation of the organisation and decentralisation of power to dilute the high command culture.

“Today, I see how MPs feel without power and it is the same story in all the parties, be it the Congress or the BJP. I want to empower the 720-odd MPs in Parliament. I want to give voice to the middle tier... empower the middle-level leaders. There are some parties in India which are run by one leader, two leaders, five to six leaders and 15 to 20 leaders. My priority is that I want to empower the MPs as also the 5,000-odd legislators in various states,” he said.

Rahul conceded that the high command culture started in the 1970s when Indira Gandhi was at the helm of the Congress. “My grandmother was under severe assault. I knew her and if I would have been in her place, I would have also done likewise.”

He described Mahatma Gandhi as his “guru”, as he did during the Gujarat election campaign, saying the Father of the Nation could inspire ordinary people by not hankering after power. He talked of work without thinking of the result — as described in the Gita.

Rahul also responded to a query about his marriage, saying in lighter vein that his outlook and priorities may change after he marries and has children. “May be I am not marrying to avoid having any swarth (self-interest),” he muttered.

The nature of the discourse, and the show of detachment, hasn’t disheartened senior Congress leaders who know Rahul has now taken the plunge and is working overtime to rejuvenate the party with both long-term and short-term perspectives.

While Rahul plans to drastically change the party system over the next 10-15 years, he is also alive to the immediate needs of power politics. He has already met leaders from allied parties, like Sharad Pawar from the NCP, Kanimozhi from the DMK and E. Ahmed from the Muslim League, to discuss preparations for the next election.

An NCP leader said Rahul discussed future challenges with Pawar. “This is a good sign. He is showing respect for senior leaders and is keen to learn from their experience,” the NCP leader said.

Sources said Rahul met leaders like Lalu Yadav, Sitaram Yechury and Ram Vilas Paswan after becoming the Congress vice-president. Congress sources say he has become a 24x7 politician unlike in the past when he restricted himself to specific assignments.

In addition to meeting all Congress MPs from every state, he has called the second round of interaction with AICC office-bearers tomorrow. This exercise may be followed by a shuffle in the organisation later this month.