New Delhi: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will not be declared prime ministerial candidate but will lead the party’s campaign for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party said Thursday, putting to rest intense speculation about his role.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the extended Congress Working Committee (CWC) which lasted for almost two hours.
The meeting saw several leaders pushing for declaring Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate but party president Sonia Gandhi intervened to say that the COngress did not have a tradition of making such as a declaration before the elections.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Arun Jaitley taunted the Congress for not declaring Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate.
He said the Congress knew “it will not form the government” and felt there was no need to declare its candidate.
Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters that the CWC meeting decided the agenda for the All India Congress Committee (AICC) meeting to be held Friday, in which a resolution will speak about the role of Rahul Gandhi ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“This meeting of CWC declares that the 2014 election campaign will be led by Rahul Gandhi,” Dwivedi said reading out from the resolution.
Dwivedi said Sonia Gandhi told the meeting that it was not necessary for the Congress to declare a prime ministerial candidate even if some other party had done so.
The BJP has declared Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi its prime ministerial candidate.
Sources said that the demand for declaring Rahul Gandhi as prime ministerial candidate was first made by Kerala party leader Ramesh Chennithala. Similar views were expressed by party general secretaries B.K. Hari Prasad and Gurudas Kamat, union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Indian Youth Congress chief Rajiv Satav.
They said several CWC members at the meeting asked the party-led United Progressive Alliance government to take immediate steps to check price rise.
They demanded an increase in subsidised cooking gas cylinders from nine to 12 for each household.
They said the concerns were targeted at Petroleum Minister M. Veerapa Moily, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who were all present at the meeting.
Party sources said the leadership had sought to do a balancing act by not formally projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate but also making it amply clear that he would occupy the position if the party forms the government after the Lok Sabha polls to be held in April-May.
They said party leaders did not want the 2014 election to turn into a presidential-style contest between Rahul Gandhi and Modi as it could suit the BJP.
The sources added that the BJP wanted the Lok Sabha campaign to turn into a virtual battle between Modi and Raul Gandhi.
The CWC decision, however, turned out to an anti-climax to the reportage in the media and anticipation in sections of the party about the possible announcement concerning Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi already heads the party’s election coordination committee for Lok Sabha polls.
There have been divergent views among the party’s senior leaders on projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate though there has been growing demand among workers for such a declaration.
Sources said those against the projection of Rahul Gandhi felt that the party was late in making a move and he would have to do a lot of catching up.
Congress leaders also said that after the party’s rout in assembly elections in four states, its prospects do not appear bright in the Lok Sabha elections and projection of Rahul Gandhi could affect his long-term prospects.
Sources said those pushing for declaring Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate said said that Congress should not appear faceless in its campaign.
Dwivedi said it was always known in the Congress who will lead the poll campaign.
He said the CWC resolution means that the 2014 elections will be contested under “one leadership”.
“Rahul Gandhi is the leader of the future,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi, who also spoke at the CWC meeting, said he was always ready to discharge any responsibility given to him by the party.
He said there were attempts to strike at the Congress ideology and there was a need to strengthen it.
Dwivedi said the party’s election leaders were known from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru even if there was no announcement of the prime ministerial candidate.
He said an announcement was made about Manmohan Singh’s candidature as prime minister ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha polls as he was already holding the position.
Manmohan Singh had announced earlier this month that he will not be seeking another term as prime minister.