The Congress on Thursday formalised the role of Rahul Gandhi as the party’s face for the campaign in the 2014 general election by appointing him head of the election coordination committee.
The announcement comes amid increasing clamour for a larger role for Gandhi, as the party is widely perceived to be on the defensive on a range of issues — particularly on corruption and inflation.
Forty-two-year-old Gandhi family scion himself said recently he was ready to assume a bigger role. Also, Congress president Sonia Gandhi announced at a Samvad Baithak (dialogue session) in Surajkund last Friday that committees would be set up to organise the poll campaign.
“Rahul Gandhi’s elevation suggests that he will play a decisive role in the next election, not only in terms of candidate selection, but also in its overall management,” said Prof Zoya Hassan of Jawaharlal Nehru University, an expert on the Congress party.
While both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia have ruled out the possibility of an early election, the ruling alliance is under constant attack from the Opposition and is now dependent on outside support from the Samajwadi Party and the BSP after the exit of the Trinamool Congress from the UPA.
By announcing the election team 18 months ahead of the poll schedule, the Congress tried to signal its battle preparedness, primarily addressing its cadre. The timing of the announcement is also significant.
The Congress seeks to position itself as a party in order — contrary to the perception of chaos — while the BJP is in disarray due to the internal power struggle in the Sangh Parivar.
There are five more members in the committee — Ahmed Patel, Janardan Dwivedi, Digvijaya Singh, Madhusudan Mistry and Jairam Ramesh.
The party also announced three sub-groups for pre-poll alliances, manifesto and government programmes and communications and publicity. The first two will be led by defence minister AK Antony, while Digvijaya Singh will head the third.
The composition of the committees has a clear imprint of Gandhi as several people considered close to him have been inducted as members.
The sub-group on pre-poll alliances has M Veerappa Moily, Mukul Wasnik, Suresh Pachauri, Jitendra Singh and Mohan Prakash.
The panel on manifesto and government programmes has P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Anand Sharma, Salman Khurshid, Sandeep Dikshit, Ajit Jogi, Renuka Chowdhary, PL Punia as members and Mohan Gopal is a special invitee.
The sub-group on communications and publicity has Ambika Soni, Manish Tewari, Deepender Hooda, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Rajeev Shukla and Bhakta Charan Das.
While it is clear that Rahul Gandhi will lead the campaign from the front, the key question that the Congress will have to resolve before the next election is whether to have alliances and with whom.
While a section of the party has been arguing for a go-alone policy, the constitution of a sub-group on pre-poll alliances clearly indicates that the party will be in search of coalition partners.
What's more, the announcement came before the party's proposed brain-storming session in Jaipur in mid-January when alliances and the strategy for the 2014 polls are expected to be given a final shape.