It was a generational shift that the Congress has been praying for. Thirteen years after he entered politics, Rahul Gandhi is set to take over as the president of the Congress from mother Sonia Gandhi, as a unanimous choice. The grand old party, desperately seeking resurrection, on Monday came out in full strength as Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for the post of president. Among the proposers were Sonia and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Rahul’s elevation is the first time a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family would replace another as the Congress president when the latter is alive. Elections to the post were last held seven years ago.
Heaping praise on Rahul, Congress leaders said his elevation would give the party a “new wave of hope”. While former prime minister Manmohan Singh called him a “darling” of the party, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said Rahul would be a successful party president under whose leadership the Congress will come back to power.
“Rahulji has been the darling of Congressmen and Congresswomen, and this is yet another step in his quest for serving the people through the the Congress party….Congress president Sonia Gandhi has served the Congress party and through the Congress party the country for the last 19 years. This is yet another step forward in that direction. Rahul Gandhi will carry on the great traditions of the Congress party,” Singh said.
While Rahul, sporting a tilak on the forehead, applied by former president Pranab Mukherjee, did not talk to the waiting media, Congress leaders were effusive. “If you ask me, I think he will make a very good prime minister,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said, a sentiment shared by others.
No one in the Congress expected a challenge to Rahul. The first of the 89 sets of nomination papers proposing his name had Sonia’s signature. It was filed by veterans Tarun Gogoi, Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Patel, Sheila Dikshit, Mohsina Kidwai, Kamal Nath, AICC treasurer Motilal Vora and Puducherry Chief Minister V Narayanasamy.
Fifty-six nominations were filed on behalf of Sonia when election was last held for the post of Congress president in 2010.
Before arriving at the Congress headquarters, Rahul went to meet Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh. Later he came to the party office with Singh, who submitted the second set of nomination papers. The second set had the signatures of P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Anand Sharma, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jaipal Reddy, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddharamiah and veteran Oscar Fernandes.
The three sets filed next were by CWC members, general secretaries and other top leaders. Most of the states filed more than three sets of nominations on behalf of Rahul. Some states like Tamil Nadu filed five sets of papers.
Even though there is no other candidate, Congress central election authority chairman Mullappally Ramachandran said they would go by the book and the official announcement of his election would be made only on December 11, the last date of withdrawal of nominations.
The festive spirit at the Congress headquarters on 24, Akbar Road, was somewhat dampened by PM Narendra Modi’s dynastic rule barbs against the party. Every leader, old and young alike, made it a point to attack the PM for raising questions on the Congress’s internal election process and countered him asking “How are BJP presidents elected?”. They added that the BJP and PM were rattled as the ground beneath their feet was slipping.
There is still no word on the future role of Sonia, who has been at the helm of the Congress for 19 years, though leaders said she would be a mentor. She is expected to continue as chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, which would allow her to engage leaders of other parties as the Congress strives to cobble together a joint front against the BJP in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.
Ever since the 2014 defeat, many in the party have been demanding that Rahul take over as party president. Unlike Sonia, whose ascension had plunged the party into turmoil in the initial years, the Congress now is totally unified behind the family and Rahul.
While the 47-year-old enjoys that advantage, he faces the daunting task of ending the 132-year-old party’s electoral drought, reviving a weak organisation which is crumbling in many states, and finding a healthy mix between the young and old leadership.
The first test for Rahul would come within a week of his taking over. The Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh results are due on December 18. While many in the Congress have given up hope when it comes to Himachal, the party is putting up a spirited fight in Gujarat, with Rahul the face of the campaign.