Congress president Sonia Gandhi skipped campaigning in the two-poll bound states of Punjab and Goa, in what party leaders said were growing signs of her readiness to let vice-president Rahul Gandhi take the political centre stage.
Campaigning ended on Thursday in the two states which go to the polls on Saturday.
There is also a cloud of uncertainty over her election tours to Uttarakhand, Manipur and the battle ground state Uttar Pradesh where the Congress is fighting the elections in alliance with the ruling Samajwadi Party.
Voting in Uttarakhand will be held on February 15, in Manipur on March 4 and 8 and spread over seven phases in Uttar Pradesh between February 11 and March 8.
Congress sources described Sonia’s absence as deliberate as she slowly withdraws from organisational matters with all key decisions being taken by Rahul.
Perhaps, this is the first time that Sonia, 70, has chosen to stay away from poll campaigning after she joined active politics in 1998.
The Congress president had launched the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh with a road show in Varanasi on August 2 last year but had to call it off mid way due to ill health and a shoulder injury.
Sonia also visited Goa twice on private tours in the past few months – first in November and then to celebrate the New Year.
Sonia had started campaigning for the Congress even before taking over the reins of the party from Sitaram Kesri on March 14, 1998.
It was on January 11, 1998 that she kicked off her first election tour by addressing a public meeting at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu where her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991.
In between, Sonia had skipped canvassing in Manipur in 2012 but that was only on the advice of party leaders following militant threats.
In the past few months, she has skipped the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on November 7 when as many as 32 members urged Rahul to assume the top party post. She also stayed away from a Congress convention on demonetisation at Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium on January 11, giving 46-year-old Rahul the opportunity to chair such a big party event.
However, Sonia, who has been the president of the 131-year-old party for a record 18 consecutive years since 1998, continues to play an active role in the selection of candidates and has chaired all the meetings of the party’s central election committee.
Congress leaders insist that Sonia remains the “ultimate authority” in the party and “vets” all the decisions taken by Rahul.
They cite the recent negotiations with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, maintaining that while Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra did all the groundwork, the final nod was given by the Congress chief.
With the Election Commission directing the Congress to conclude its organisational elections by June after rejecting its plea for a one-year extension, a shake-up in the grand old party is expected any time after the poll results in the five states on March 11.