By declaring Captain Amarinder Singh as his party's chief ministerial candidate five days ahead of the Punjab assembly elections on Wednesday, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi not only reversed party tradition, but also gave credence to the growing impression that he is the new power centre in the party.
The Congress is hoping that by naming a leader, Gandhi has ensured that party workers go into the final phase of electioneering with clear minds.
Addressing a rally in Tarn Taran district in Punjab, he said, "An 'aandhi' (strong wind) is sweeping across the state in favour of the Congress. And after the polls, Capt Amarinder Singh will be your chief minister." He reiterated the message in Jalandhar and Ferozepur.
Singh, who seemed overwhelmed by the development, pledged, "I will ensure the Akali-BJP government is voted out.'' The declaration also put an end to speculation that the Congress would choose Singh's wife Preneet Kaur for the top job.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who visited Punjab twice in the last fortnight, including a rally each in in Samrala and Gurdaspur on Tuesday, did not make any announcement regarding the chief ministerial candidate.
In the circumstances, the significance of Gandhi's declaration in all three regions of the state-Jalandhar in Doaba, Tarn Taran in Majha and Ferozepur in Malwa - is that Sonia wanted to send this signal through him, thereby formally choosing him as the future leader.
Political observers feel the move would galvanise party workers on the eve of this crucial election. "Rahul has done this consciously and with poll strategy in mind. It also marks the transition from the present to the future as far as decision-making goes,'' said a senior Congress leader.
Even Priyanka Gandhi had hinted about the new order in the party. She had told party workers in Rae Bareli last week she was willing to campaign in constituencies other than family turfs of Amethi and Rae Bareli if Gandhi wanted her to. She had said she would go by her brother's wishes, signalling that he was her leader too.