The clamour for Rahul Gandhi’s anointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate will get louder ahead of the January 17 session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). It is not a done deal yet but the “issue is under active consideration”, a senior party source told Hindustan Times.
“Until May 2014, it is Manmohan Singh and after that it is Rahul Gandhi. The only question in debate is whether you announce it today or after the election,” he added.
After the drubbing that the Congress got in the recently-concluded assembly elections, many leaders in the party believe that Gandhi’s projection will act as a morale booster for the cadre.
If Gandhi is projected as the PM candidate, it will mean two things — one, Manmohan Singh is not in the race for a third term; and two, it will deflect a substantial part of the anti-incumbency against the central government. It will be a fresh promise rather than the performance of the outgoing government that will drive the Congress campaign in that case. It is logical and reasonable, but it is a bit complicated too.
Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been very protective of the authority and dignity of Singh. They have been sensitive to the BJP’s criticism that Singh as the Prime Minister is an appointed one as opposed to an elected one.
People claiming to be close to the PM and the Gandhis have sought to create a wedge between the family and the PM on various occasions. However, in public and private, both the president and the vice president of the Congress have strongly defended Singh.
On and off in the past five years, many in the party have floated the idea of Rahul Gandhi joining the Union cabinet but it did not happen because it would have weakened the PM’s command. Going by this trend, the Gandhis may not like to initiate a move that will by implication mean a retirement chit for Singh.
On his part, Rahul Gandhi has said that aiming to become the prime minister is not his priority, but he has not ruled himself out either. He is definitely open to the idea of being declared the prime ministerial candidate, provided that it is proposed to him by the senior leadership of the party.
That is the reason why, what PM Singh says on the issue between now and January 17 is of extreme importance. Through 2013, Singh has spoken on his post-2014 plans several times.
In March, he did not rule out the possibility of serving a third term; in September, he said that Rahul Gandhi would be the ideal PM candidate for 2014 and he would be happy to serve under him. Everything accounted for, however, Singh has not yet announced that he will retire after May 2014.
Singh has had an uninterrupted 10 years in power, with a mixed record. Circumstances have been harsh on him — a global economic slump, a sudden awakening of the Indian middle class that has turned hostile to him.
It is a certainty that delegates at the AICC session in January will be screaming out “bring Rahul, save Congress”. Wisdom lies in the ability and willingness to pre-empt that uproar from turning into a cry for Singh’s blood. The Congress cadre have not been known to be kind towards those outside of the Gandhi family.