Jaipur: In a game changing move, the Congress on Saturday appointed Rahul Gandhi the Vice President of the party at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Jaipur making the clamour to make Rahul party's prime ministerial candidate only grow louder. Defence Minister AK Antony proposed Rahul's name for the post and the CWC unanimously backed Antony's proposal.
Congress General Secretary Janardhan Dwivedi addressed the press after the meeting in Jaipur on Saturday evening and revealed, "AK Antony has proposed the name of Rahul Gandhi as Vice President of Congress and the CWC welcomed this proposal and Sonia Gandhi gave her yes and Rahul Gandhi accepted the proposal."
Rahul thanked the party after the announcement. "I am grateful and thank the party. I am confident we can transform and strengthen Congress," the newly appointed Congress Vice President said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also congratulated 42-year-old Rahul, while party workers celebrated outside the venue of CWC meeting.
However, Dwivedi said that decision whether Rahul will lead the party's campaign for 2014 Assembly Elections will be taken later. "Will he lead next election, this decision will be taken later," added Dwivedi.
Earlier in the day, party strongman Sanjay Nirupam even announced that Rahul would lead the party in 2014 and be the party's PM candidate.
However, Digvijaya Singh had said that Rahul should not be pressurised. "The Congress never announces its PM candidate. So let's not get into this. Let Rahul chalk his own course. Don't pressurise him," he said. Mani Shankar Aiyar said that Rahul himself had to decide on the issue. "If he decides to take the role, the party will welcome his decision."
Most Congress leaders have been demanding a stronger role for Rahul within the party and the government. MoS for HRD Shashi Tharoor said on Saturday, "We would be in very capable hands if Rahul Gandhi takes over." Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Deepa Dasmunsi and Ambika Soni seconded him.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said before the Congress Working Committee meeting started that the demand (for Rahul being projected as Congress' PM candidate) has been there for a long time. "Even the Prime Minister has said this on many occasions. The opinion of all the members in the last two days of Chintan Shivir will be taken into account in the CWC meet and a decision will be taken," said Gehlot.
Scindia said that Rahul was already "the face of the party". "Rahul is already the face of the party. He doesn't have to be there, his views have to be. The youth identify with him and so we are not worried," he said, responding to questions about the Congress perhaps being worried about a possible Rahul-Modi face-off in 2014. Dasmunsi added that Rahul was already at the forefront of the party.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi summed the mood by saying, "Irrespective of formal name or position, Rahul is our leader. And I have no doubt that not only in 2014, but in every which way, he's going to show us the path."
Celebrations erupted outside the venue even before the formal announcement of Rahul's new role in the party with jubilant workers bursting crackers and raising slogans hailing the young leader. The elevation of Gandhi could lead to major changes in the party. Indications to this effect were given by party General Secretary Digvijaya Singh who said that, generally, when a new leader comes, he brings in his team.
Digvijaya, however, hastened to add that even if Rahul accepts a predominant role in the organisation, he will also be part of the team headed by the party chief Sonia Gandhi. Digvijaya has worked closely with Rahul being in charge General Secretary of the party affairs in Uttar Pradesh.
He said that Congress has seen several young leaders as its chief like Maulana Azad and Jawahar Lal Nehru. He, however, dismissed suggestions that the party would go for a quota in ticket distribution for those under 45 years to be in tune with India's changing democratic profile.
Digvijaya said that there was no need for quota and the young would be automatically given preference in ticket distribution in the changed scenario with women also getting a better deal.
Rahul's appointment comes 16 months ahead of the Lok Sabha polls and at a time when the BJP appears to be zeroing in on Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate. He was made the Congress General Secretary by party chief
Sonia Gandhi on September 24, 2007, over three years after he entered politics by becoming the party MP from Amethi, a seat represented by Rajiv Gandhi.
He was given the charge of Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI) which he sought to democratise by holding regular elections.
With Additional Inputs from PTI