Echoing the Shimla Sankalp of 2003, the Congress Thursday decided to call upon “all secular parties” to join hands against “divisive forces”. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting also decided to project party vice-president Rahul Gandhi not as its prime ministerial candidate, but only as its chief campaigner for the Lok Sabha elections.
In a resolution to be adopted at Friday’s AICC session, the Congress will appeal to “secular parties” to save the “secular ethos” of the country, according to sources present at the CWC meeting at which the draft resolution was approved. Then out of power for seven years, the Congress had given up its go-it-alone policy at the Shimla conclave, with Sonia Gandhi asking all secular forces to evolve a strategy to combat communalism and religious fundamentalism. The Shimla resolution invited all “progressive-thinking” institutions and political movements to join hands with the Congress.
The fact that the Congress has decided to give another clarion call to anti-BJP forces to come together betrays the nervousness in the ruling camp at a time when it is left with only three significant partners — the NCP, the RLD and the NC — in the UPA. That party leaders were largely in favour of formally pitting Rahul against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was evident at the meeting. The first five speakers — Ramesh Chennithala, B K Hari Prasad, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Rajiv Satav and Gurudas Kamat — pitched strongly for Rahul’s projection as candidate for PM. Seeing the prevailing mood, a visibly upset Sonia reportedly intervened, cutting short Kamat’s speech.
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“Why are we having this debate?” she is learnt to have asserted. “Why all this hauaa (hype) about PM candidate? It is not our tradition to project a PM candidate. He (Rahul) will lead the campaign.” Sonia’s intervention put an end to the Rahul-for-PM clamour. Senior party leaders Ambika Soni and Ajit Jogi later suggested that a resolution be passed to the effect that Rahul will lead the election campaign.
Congress sources familiar with Rahul’s own view on the matter said the party vice-president is of the opinion that projecting a PM candidate would “not be of much help”. At the CWC meeting, Rahul said that he was a “dedicated” Congress worker, and appeared to indicate that he would be inclined to become PM should the party receive the voters’ mandate. “As a loyal Congress worker, I will abide by whatever the party says. I have been with you and I will be with you after 2014. After elections, whatever you say, I will do,” he reportedly said.
Speaking earlier, Ghulam Nabi Azad argued that “because we don’t have a PM candidate, we don’t get the media’s focus.” However, Digvijaya Singh, who spoke later, argued that MPs could not be denied the right to elect their leader. After the CWC meeting, Janardan Dwivedi told reporters that all members had wanted Rahul to be declared the PM candidate. “As the discussion progressed, Congress president Sonia Gandhi intervened and said the Congress does not have such a tradition. If anybody has declared their prime ministerial candidate, that does not make it necessary for us to follow suit and make an announcement,” he said.
According to Dwivedi, Rahul said at the meeting, “The Congress’s ideology is under attack and I am committed to strengthen the Congress’s ideology. I am a dedicated worker of the Congress and will be ready to do whatever the party asks me to do.” Dwivedi said: “What she (Sonia) did not say but all the members said was that the Congress always knows who its leader will be when it comes to power. So what is the need for discussing or declaring? When Manmohan Singh was named last time, he had been the prime minister for five years. The party had just said that he will continue as PM. There was no announcement of a different name.”
He added that there was consensus that the campaign would be led by Rahul Gandhi, “so, in a way, the future leadership is with him and there is no need for discussing about the government.”