The declaration of Rahul Gandhi as Congress’s prime ministerial candidate is still an unsettled question despite the growing chorus from within the party to make the announcement at the January 16 AICC meet. The Congress vice-president, it seems, is still to signal his intent.
The doubt, sources said, is clearly not about whether he will be the face of the Congress in the upcoming general elections. The entire question appears to be centred on how to project what is otherwise considered a well-known reality for the party.
This essentially boils down to how to frame that crucial one line. Should it be that Rahul will be Congress’s PM candidate or would just saying that the Congress will fight the 2014 elections under his leadership suffice. And then there is always the fallback alternative of not spelling it out at all.
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As of now, there are broadly three lines of thought within the party, which has instigated this debate on whether to go for a consensus line that would reconcile these views or simply project Rahul as PM candidate without any delay.
The first line of thought , which seems less popular, questions whether it is necessary to declare a PM candidate? Those backing this line argue that Sonia Gandhi was never projected as PM candidate ahead of the 2004 polls and yet the Congress performed well.
While Manmohan Singh was projected as PM candidate in 2009, the fact remains that he was a sitting PM and that, to many party insiders, is quite different from announcing the candidate. This rather safe option has an unspoken sub-text that stems from a realisation that the Congress is not going to do well in these elections given the huge anti-incumbency after the UPA government’s two terms.
The second line also draws on the same realisation of an anti-Congress mood, but makes just the opposite argument that if at all the party has a chance of improving its position, it has to bring a fresh face like Rahul. Those backing this view, sources said, seem to believe that the Congress vice-president can politically distance himself from the Manmohan Singh government.
There is, however, a third line which makes the point that the decision is not about just this election but a larger call by Rahul on whether he wants to commit himself for the long haul or not. It was this section which argued that he should have been projected as the UP chief ministerial candidate, because, regardless of the results, it would have established him as a serious player, willing to stake claims and undertake risks.
The argument is that the declaration of PM candidate must not be seen as a one-off event but a start of a new innings for Rahul, underlining that he is the Congress candidate now and for future elections. And those backing this line feel this purpose can be served even without saying the word Prime Minister, as long as the signal is clear that Rahul is the party’s new leader.