New Delhi: Signalling a generational change in the 127-year-old Congress, Rahul Gandhi is gradually expanding his role as vice president of the party as it prepares for six assembly polls later this year and the 2014 general elections.
A sign of Gandhi's expanding influence in the party is that he has started taking over the role of his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who used to interact with party MPs during parliament sessions. In the process, Gandhi has met the All India Congress Committee functionaries and state leaders, including chief ministers, over the past few weeks.
Officially, Gandhi heads the party's coordination panel for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and will lead its poll campaign.
Gandhi, who was made No.2 in the party Jan 19 at the party's 'chintan shivir' strategy session at Jaipur, is expected to announce the much-awaited organisational reshuffle soon. He chose not to rush with the changes and has since been hearing party leaders from across the country on what ails the organisation and what needs to be done to strengthen it.
He recently said his main priority is to strengthen and democratise party and not be the prime ministerial candidate, that his party wants him to be.
"Rahul is assessing the state-wise opportunities as he has realised the reality of coalitions in Indian politics," political commentator N. Bhaskara Rao told IANS, adding, "He is preparing the leaders for the future."
"The discussions helped the leaders understand the problems of different states and get a national perspective," a Congress general secretary told IANS, not wishing to be named as he was not an authorised spokesperson of the party.
So far he has met MPs from Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan, where assembly polls are due later this year, besides those from Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Goa during the ongoing budget session. Interactions with other states will follow, party leaders said.
"He heard the leaders patiently and told them not to feel insecure during ticket distribution if they followed the rules," a Congress MP from Rajasthan told IANS.
During another interaction with leaders of the faction-ridden Haryana Congress, Gandhi firmly told them not to criticise Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda in public as it exposed chinks in the party ranks.
Party insiders said the interactive sessions have been a reality check for Rahul Gandhi, who told the senior leaders to strengthen party units down to the booth level and bridge their communication gap with the local workers to brace up for future challenges.
"He told Madhya Pradesh leaders that they were fighting the BJP as a party and not the faces that represent it," a Madhya Pradesh MP told IANS. This was after state Congress leaders raised the issue of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan's publicity drive.
Significantly, Rahul Gandhi has not confined himself to discussions in Delhi alone. He has been travelling across the country after becoming vice president and recently met workers and leaders of Odisha and Uttarakhand, as also Mumbai.
Plans are afoot for more state-specific meetings over the coming weeks, party sources said.
"He is building a personal rapport with the central and state leaders. This will help in the long run," Rao said.
Congress insiders said Gandhi's rebuff to suggestions that he be named the party's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the party was his priority will help convey the message that he does not hanker after power.