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HindustanTimes Thu,24 Apr 2014

Rahul: More number 1 than 2

Varghese K George, Hindustan Times  Jaipur, January 20, 2013
First Published: 00:03 IST(20/1/2013) | Last Updated: 01:18 IST(20/1/2013)

Rahul Gandhi's elevation to the post of vice president of the Congress party formally makes him the number two in the party, but he will effectively be the number one.

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“This marks the transition of power from Sonia Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi,” says Prof Zoya Hassan, a political expert.

While Rahul's influence on the party's thinking and policies have been increasing through his eight-year political career, from now on his will be the last word.

More significantly, he will have to say that last word. He has usually avoided talking about issues, taking the plea that his focus was on revamping the youth and student wings of the party.

Rahul assumes the lead role even as the Congress faces multiple challenges — of corruption, inflation, law and order and inadequate employment generation.

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The party is also attempting to reach out to the middle classes.

“The Congress is repositioning itself from being a party of the poor to at least being a party that is of the poor and the middle classes,” points out Hassan.

The young Gandhi's takeover is linked to this re-imagination of the Congress.

While Rahul's forays into the Dalit and tribal regions have projected his pro-poor image, his pro-technology and pro-liberalisation approaches make him acceptable among the middle classes too.

His five-year drive to democratise the youth and student wings of the party has connected him to the socially mobile youth across India.

Just as Rahul represents a changing Congress, he himself has changed.

The change in him will be most visible in his efforts to accommodate alliances, something that he has not been originally inclined towards, but has come around to.

The Congress has already appointed a committee under defence minister AK Antony to scout for suitable alliances for 2014, which the party accepts is inevitable.

The immediate challenge that Rahul's leadership will face is avoiding a potential friction between the old guard of the party and the youth brigade that he is promoting. But he has Sonia by his side to tackle it.

While his leading the 2014 campaign is now a given, the question remains whether he would be willing to try for PM or let someone else lead it. For one thing, he will be under a lot of pressure over the issue.

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