Rahul Gandhi slowly emerged out of the self-imposed cocoon in the year that went by but in the New Year which will see Lok Sabha elections will he have a bigger role.
This is a question that is hotly discussed in Congress circles and outside.
With the Congress buoyed over the poll victory in three states and being part of government in Jammu and Kashmir,Gandhi was hailed as the third pole in Congress after Party President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
“The Congress is now on the threshold of 3-G technology; we have stood for third generation leaders who are progressive and dynamic and who can provide good governance,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi says.
But the party appears in no hurry to pitchfork him to the front as one who may be taking over. Sonia Gandhi had answered the question on Independence Day that “certainly” Manmohan Singh will be the Prime Minister if the UPA comes back to power.
In fact,early 2008 saw the AICC not approving senior leader Arjun Singh’s statement that there was no harm in projecting Rahul as the PM candidate. That time,party leaders had made it known that Manmohan Singh did not like the idea when he was occupying the prime ministerial chair.
Gandhi,who was inducted as the General Secretary of the AICC in September 2007 and made in-charge of the frontal organisations of NSUI and the IYC,took the opportunity head on.
Gandhi started the process of democratising the functioning of the NSUI and the IYC holding organizational elections for the NSUI in Uttarakhand and IYC in Punjab,to be replicated in these organisations in the rest of the country.
Even though the adoption of the same model in the parent party may not be anyday soon,the 38-year old leader,in a candid admission,described patronage,money,dynasty and relatives as a “bane” which prevents the youth from joining politics.
He described himself as someone who benefited from it as his father,grandmother and great grandfather were the Prime Ministers of the country at a meeting in Uttarakhand.
The year 2008 proved to be a watershed for Gandhi as he came on his own and showed maturity as a politician proving the critics wrong that he would not be able to find his feet in the hurly-burly of Indian politics.
Not only was he made the in-charge of NSUI and the IYC,Gandhi was made a member of several panels within the Congress,prominent being the Future Challenges Committee,the Publicity Committee and the Manifesto Committee.
Party insiders say that in the meetings of these committees and others,they receive valuable inputs from the youth leader and political insight which clearly indicate that he has come of age and is ready to fulfill bigger tasks in the party or the government.
Congress leaders point out that for the first time in 2008,Gandhi seriously looked beyond the family pocket borough of Amethi-Rae Bareilly and the state of Uttar Pradesh.
In the recently-held Assembly elections which the Congress won 3-2,party veterans like Veerappa Moily gave credit to the Amethi MP for the victory,describing him as the star and another General Secretary Prithviraj Chavan referring to him as the “third pole” of the party.
Critics say that out of sycophancy senior Congress leaders are going all out for their praise about the scion of what is called the first political family of the country.
Union Minister Arjun Singh started this when he said that “there was nothing wrong” in making Gandhi the Prime Minister of the country. The AICC was not impressed.
But now more leaders are coming out in the open. General Secretary Digvijay Singh says,”Rahul is fully competent to occupy the post of Prime Minister.” The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister is not known to speak out of turn in the Congress and his comments found wider acceptability in the party.
Those associated with Gandhi and the Congress say that he is the “Unique Selling Proposition” or the USP of the party in a country which has 65 per cent of its population below the age of 38.
“No other party has a youth ambassador,an icon with whom the youth can connect to and this gives the Congress a headstart and a distinct advantage,” says a Congress leader.
He says the question is how to cash in on this USP of the Congress into distinct electoral advantage in the next round of elections.
Gandhi has emerged as the soft,suave,new generation politician of the 21st century who is not bound by political conventions,can make honest admissions,is focused and not bothered about the Opposition barbs,he says.
The young brigade in the Congress rallies around him and hails him as their leader,inside and outside Parliament. This group comprises of Jyotiraditya Scindia,Jitin Prasad,Sachin Pilot,Milind Deora and Sandeep Dikshit amongst others.
When Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati attacked the young leader saying that he cleanses himself with soap after meeting dalits,Gandhi preferred not to reply in the same language as most politicians would do.
BJP President Rajnath Singh referred to him as a ‘bachcha (child)’ in politics in a remark which was not considered charitable.
Gandhi admitted that he was a ‘bachcha’ but said that a majority of the country was indeed ‘bachcha’ and senior politicians would have to look at this segment seriously.