The responsibility would be decided by the leadership

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will soon assume greater responsibilities, he himself confirmed on Thursday, either in the organisation or in the government, ending weeks of speculation on whether he was agreeable to playing a role befitting one whom the party hopes to project as its prime ministerial candidate in 2014.

Taken aback by this public acknowledgment, the Congress predictably responded cautiously with a carefully composed press release. “We will be very happy if Shri Rahul Gandhi takes on more responsibility and it will be a very welcome step,” general secretary and media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi said adding, “What responsibility [whether in the government or in the party] and when is up to the party leadership and Rahulji to decide.”

Mr. Gandhi’s affirmation to an NDTV reporter that he was ready and willing to move up shortly after he cast his vote in the presidential election in the Parliament House came a day after Congress president Sonia Gandhi — in response to a question from the same reporter — said whether her son assumed greater responsibilities would depend on him.

On Thursday, when Mr. Gandhi was asked whether he would play a more proactive role in the coming days, he replied in the affirmative. Pressed on when that would be, he gestured towards his mother, — who was standing next to him — saying it would be decided by the leadership. Would that be in the government? “Both options are open,” Mr. Gandhi replied.

This comes in the wake of a spate of statements from senior Congress leaders urging the party’s heir apparent to take on more responsibilities in the organisation or government. From External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who suggested he join the government to Law Minister Salman Khurshid, who wanted Mr. Gandhi to give the party a new direction and a new ideology, to general secretary Digvijay Singh, who urged him to play a bigger role, the statements mounted to a crescendo in recent weeks.

What does this all mean? On Thursday, a Congress functionary interpreted Mr. Gandhi’s statement as making a few things clear: one that he was willing to do more; two, that he was still debating whether it would be in the government or in the party, and three, that he, Ms. Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would decide its timing, and finally, that this was imminent.

A key Congress leader told The Hindu that they believed Mr. Gandhi’s preference till now was to play a larger role in the organisation. While this would not be that of a Working president as that would undermine Ms. Gandhi’s position (a working president is appointed, party sources said, only when the jobs of Prime Minister and Congress president are held by one person), it could be that of vice-president (a job held in the past by Arjun Singh when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and Congress president, and by Jitendra Prasad). A Congress functionary said: “Now, when Mr. Gandhi wishes to consult one of us, he does so, but if he becomes vice president, we can approach him as well. It would automatically give him a larger role.”

However, with Mr. Gandhi saying both options are open, there is speculation that he could be given a social sector slot in the government — the Rural Development Ministry, for instance — so that he could both get a fix on governance while taking forward some of the UPA’s flagship programmes forward. There are people in the party who feel that if the 42-year-old general secretary is to become a credible prime ministerial candidate in 2014, it will help him get some administrative experience before that.

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