The Congress Working Committee (CWC) decided on Thursday that Rahul Gandhi would lead the party in the coming general election after party president Sonia Gandhi rejected suggestions by five members that he be named the prime ministerial candidate.

The decision ended a fortnight of speculation following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement on January 3 that he would not be the party’s candidate for a third time.

The fact that Mr. Gandhi will head the party’s election campaign, party sources told The Hindu, was given formal shape after a line was included in the draft resolution that it will be discussed and approved at the day-long AICC session on Friday.

On Thursday, shortly after Ms. Gandhi made her opening remarks around 5.30 pm – half an hour after the draft resolution was distributed to members of the extended CWC, who met at the Parliament House Annexe – some senior leaders made a pitch for Mr. Gandhi to be named as the prime ministerial candidate.

They included Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala, party general secretaries B.K. Hariprasad and Gurudas Kamat, Mahila Congress chief Shobha Oza and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Ms. Gandhi intervened at this stage and said the Congress did not have a tradition of announcing its prime ministerial candidate. She said the party need not follow the example of others, to which some members protested.

After a CWC member jumped in to say there was no need to fall into the trap of the BJP – as that party has been challenging the Congress to name its PM nominee – former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi said since Ms. Gandhi had spoken her mind, there was nothing to add except to say that the Congress should work hard to win the election so that Mr. Gandhi could become the next Prime Minister.

At this stage, Ms. Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and party general secretary Ambika Soni said a line should be added in the draft resolution to say that Mr. Gandhi will lead the party’s campaign. There was consensus on this and a line was added in paragraph 22 of the draft resolution that will be put before the AICC meeting on Friday.

Mr. Gandhi, on his part, said he was willing to undertake any task given to him by the party, and that he would fight to defend the Congress’s ideology of secularism and inclusive growth.

Earlier, Ms. Gandhi, in her brief opening remarks, said the recent setbacks should not deter the party from fighting hard to win the next election on the basis of the achievements of the UPA government’s two terms in office.

The leadership clearly does not wish to name Mr. Gandhi for the top job for an election that it feels it will lose.

Without naming the BJP, the draft resolution talks of the need to confront the growth of communal forces and the need for fighting corruption. It called on the UPA government to get pending anti-corruption Bills passed in Parliament, which is now due to meet between February 5 and 21.

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