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Thursday , July 12 , 2012
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Cong signals Rahul ‘wait’ to continue
No vacancy at top till 2014, say seniors

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi at a party meeting in Kullu earlier this month

New Delhi, July 11: Top Congress leaders have ruled out the possibility of Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party president or Prime Minister till 2014 despite recurrent demands that he should play a larger role.

There is a growing feeling among core leaders that lack of clarity on Rahul’s role was creating confusion and controversy, such as the one sparked by Salman Khurshid’s remarks on “ideological direction” from him and “this being the waiting period”.

The Congress wants to make it clear that Sonia Gandhi is a “fully active president” and she will give direction to the party.

Although the party is convinced Khurshid’s arguments were “cleverly contextualised” and “twisted” to give what one leader termed a “completely new meaning,” questions about Rahul’s role have been cropping up now and then. While there has been speculation on his becoming working president, some leaders have privately suggested that he should head the party, with Sonia as his mentor and guide.

But sources close to Sonia, who earlier avoided saying anything categorical, now want to scotch speculation. They have asserted that Sonia will continue to head the party and Manmohan Singh will continue to be the Prime Minister.

“This arrangement will not change till 2014,” an insider today said. There is, however, still no clarity whether Rahul will join the government in the next shuffle.

A section of Sonia loyalists, including some Congress chief ministers, has been arguing that Rahul needs ministerial experience before 2014 if he has to be projected as the next Prime Minister.

A leader said: “We are completely convinced that Rahul should become a cabinet minister and deliver good governance. He wanted to fight it out in the Uttar Pradesh election and that chapter is closed now. He should join the government.”

Only a few days ago, foreign minister S.M. Krishna said Rahul should join the government and “solve the problems within”. Pranab Mukherjee’s exit from the government has created an opportunity for change, with even the top four cabinet berths possibly waiting for new faces.

Sources said the dominant view in the Congress was that the government needed a full-fledged finance minister and leaving this additional burden on the Prime Minister’s shoulders would be politically unwise.

Although there are many claimants for the post, the Congress feels P. Chidambaram’s stints in the finance ministry could make him the most suitable choice. That would leave the home ministry vacant. Even the foreign ministry could have a vacancy as Krishna’s possible exit is being loudly talked about in party circles.

Asked if Rahul had changed his mind on joining the government, party sources said he was still very reluctant and wanted to strengthen the organisation but the pressure on him to review his strategy was more intense after the Uttar Pradesh election.

A senior leader said Sonia appeared inclined to make him a minister to let him get a feel of the system. The younger MPs, particularly those known as the Rahul brigade, also prefer that he work for the party as a cabinet minister instead of a general secretary.

One of them, who is a minister of state, said: “Rahulji has toured India and understood the organisational complications during the past seven-eight years of hard work in the party. It is high time he gained some ministerial experience.”