Even as the Congress party equivocates over making Rahul Gandhi its prime ministerial candidate, Sachin Pilot, a young MP considered a part of his youth brigade, says it will "happen sooner or later".
Rahul has the "capability, vision and determination to work for the country and give
leadership as prime minister", Pilot said in an interview.
Last week, Rahul Gandhi had, in response to a question put to him in Punjab, said Manmohan Singh would remain the party's prime ministerial candidate even after the next general election.
Given the sensitivities involved about projecting Rahul at this stage when Manmohan Singh is still prime minister, the party has to tread cautiously. The Gandhi-Nehru family has been particularly mindful of not doing anything that might embarrass Manmohan Singh.
Pilot, when asked whether Rahul would be prime minister "sooner" or "later", qualified his reply: "That will depend on the party. Ultimately, it is the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) and the MPs who will decide."
However, Rahul, he said, would be the "star campaigner" not just in the Lok Sabha elections but also in the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh due in November. "There is demand for him and on his side there is a commitment. It is now full throttle," the young MP from Dausa disclosed.
Responding to a query whether Rahul had what it took to lead the country, Pilot said: "The uniqueness of Rahul is his acceptance across religions, castes, regions.
"Whether it is Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, the northeast or Kashmir, thousands of young people come out to hear him. That cannot be said of (main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate) LK Advani. In addition, he is sensitive about the concerns of all communities, and has an understanding of the ground reality. It is important to have someone with that kind of approach."
Pilot spoke at length about the manner in which Rahul was trying to open up and professionalise the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, of which he is in-charge as a general secretary of the party.
For the first time in decades, he had opened the "floodgates" of the youth and student wings of the Congress to "all and sundry" and they included diploma holders, graduates, dropouts and panchayat members. Earlier, fake memberships had been the order of the day and this was no secret. The support of someone in Delhi was a prerequisite for rising in the organisation, Pilot pointed out.
Now, these are going to be professionally-run organisations where merit will count. "There are no favourites in this system, and it is having a big impact on the ground."
It was possible now to apply for membership through email, sms or by walking into the office and Rahul had roped in a team of senior leaders - a talent search committee of which Pilot is a member - to visit states and interview aspirants for membership. There is also a system for verifying the applications received, Pilot said.
An election in the Youth Congress is due in Punjab end-October, Pilot said, and it "will be a watershed". Rahul was in Punjab last week personally to supervise the booth committees. "It is a new way of doing things, and represents a bottoms-up approach."
Pilot felt that if the Congress succeeded in getting across to the youth, with 54 percent of the country's population being under 25, "it can become a movement". He added: "There is a lot of energy being generated."
Would there not be resistance from the old guard, for the decision not to give the party ticket to those above 70 years of age had already been revoked under pressure?
Pilot, the youngest parliamentarian to be elected in 2004, replied: "It has not been revoked. It was a suggestion given to the party to keep in mind. There will be as many new faces as possible."
The objective of opening the doors of frontal organisations, Pilot explained, was to involve millions of young people in the political process in India. "When young and professionally qualified people take up leadership roles, it will augur well for the nation."
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