Faithful's clamour finds fulfilment at Jaipur

As slogans rent the air and fireworks lit up the chilly night sky above the B.M. Birla Science and Technology Auditorium in Jaipur, the Congress announced that the party’s yuvraj, Rahul Gandhi, had just been appointed vice-president, and formally “elevated to the number two” position in the party, after his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi, a year and half ahead of the general elections.

Mr. Gandhi’s appointment, which came more than a year after the clamour for his elevation began within the party, was endorsed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, which met here on Saturday evening to approve the draft Jaipur declaration that has emerged from a two-day chintan shivir intended to create an agenda for 2014.

Announcing his appointment, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said Defence Minister A.K. Antony proposed Mr. Gandhi’s name for vice-president to address the long-standing aspirations of Congress leaders and workers across the country. Ms. Gandhi then approved the proposal and Mr. Gandhi accepted the position amid thumping of desks.

Top party sources told The Hindu that the announcement had been in the works as State units had been asked to print congratulatory posters of Rahul Gandhi in advance. A hoarding in Jaipur provided a glimpse, as its catch line read: Ham sab ka abhimaan ho, tum yuva shakti ka shaan ho (You are our pride, the glory of youth power.) Mr. Gandhi’s appointment, which has clearly brought joy to the youth brigade in the party — which represents more than half the delegates at the chintan shivir — will in the days to come trigger two areas of speculation: will he be the party’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014? And what will this elevation mean for Ms. Gandhi’s position?

At the ongoing Congress conference — as at virtually every gathering of the party since the plenary in Hyderabad in 2006 — there was a crescendo of voices demanding that Mr. Gandhi be given a larger role and greater responsibilities. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla set the ball rolling on Saturday afternoon by saying that the CWC was likely to take a call on the issue. Another MoS, Jyotiraditya Scindia, was not far behind: “He [Rahul] represents the demographic dividend. We want him to lead in 2014 but he has to take the final call.” Mumbai MP Sanjay Nirupam was less circumspect: “It has almost been announced that the Congress is going to fight the 2014 elections under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. He is our candidate for the post of prime minister.” And when MoS Shashi Tharoor said, “We would be in very capable hands if Rahul Gandhi takes over,” Milind Deora, Deepa Dasmunsi and Ambika Soni seconded him. And in the political challenges group, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde sang paeans to his youthful leader even as MPs Raj Babbar and Avtar Singh Badana on Friday suggested that Mr. Gandhi be projected as the party’s candidate for PM.

Saturday’s decision represents an incremental upgrade in Mr. Gandhi’s status — on November 14 last year, Mr. Gandhi was asked to head a high-power five-man Election Co-ordination Committee to “oversee all party activities related to the next elections.” This committee, along with three sub-groups — on pre-poll alliances, the manifesto and government programmes, and communications and publicity, was constituted by Ms. Gandhi following the announcement she made on November 9 at the Samvad Baithak at Surajkund. “With a year and half left for the Lok Sabha elections,” Ms. Gandhi said on that occasion, “both party and government will have to work cohesively together to ensure that we secure a renewed mandate.”

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