Rahul Gandhi is not ready yet to make the next parliamentary elections a direct fight between him and Narendra Modi. Though he would be overseeing the Congress’s campaign strategy, he does not want to be pitched as the prime ministerial candidate.
Nobody in the Congress would thus have an answer on what happens after 2014 elections if a UPA III is to be formed - whether he would follow his mother Sonia Gandhi in looking for a Manmohan Singh or he would yield to his own party leaders' desire of taking the big responsibility.
"Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question," Rahul Gandhi said. The Congress vice-president made this remark largely on his own while interacting with party MPs and some media persons in the Central Hall of Parliament in the afternoon after Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day today.
Rahul position, though stated at some other occasions in the past also, gains additional significance since it comes two days after Narendra Modi made a forceful virtual acceptance speech as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate at his party’s National Council meeting in New Delhi.
The Congress vice-president’s rather resolute disinclination to make 2014 polls a Rahul versus Modi battle has not dampened the enthusiasm among his party leaders. Though a section of party leaders are concerned about his repeated assertions on the subject, they still hope, for the records, that in due course their leader would change his mind and make their spirits fly high.
Hours later, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi referred to Rahul as "the high command" of the Congress. While Rahul may be prone to "sacrifice", the party workers want and desire to see him as prime minister.
But that was not all. Rahul also made it clear that his marriage was nowhere near. It has disappointed a vast mass of Congress workers who had looking at him for giving a prospective sixth generation Nehru-Gandhi family successor to run the oldest and biggest political party of the nation. "If I get married and have children, I will be status quoist and will like my children to take my place," Rahul said.
Last month, at a meeting of Congress legislature party leaders and state Congress chiefs, Rahul he had snubbed Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna after he demanded that he (Rahul) should soon be declared the prime ministerial candidate of the party.
"I do not want to hear such a thing again," an angry Congress vice-president was quoted as saying. Gandhi told the party leaders that the problem was not about the PM candidate but the party organisation, which needs to be addressed first.
Rahul’s continued denial of leading the frontal charge of the Congress with him as the designated prime ministerial nominee has again started a hush-hush talk of him being a reluctant leader.
The Congress leader’s informal conversation with a group of party MPs and some senior journalists who frequent the Central Hall went almost on the lines of what he had said in his acceptance speech at the AICC conclave in Jaipur two months ago in January – decision-making in the party centered in hands of a chosen few; inheritance key factor in rising up the ladder and making the voices of ordinary party workers heard by the leadership.
While his critics question him for shying away from real responsibilities and questioning his own track record in delivering goods in the last nine years, many Congress leaders fondly call him a "marathon man" who should not be judged by sprint parameters.
"The prime minister's post is not my priority. I believe in long-term politics," the 42-year-old said today. He stressed that the Congress's infamous high command culture needed to changed with greater devolution of decision-making powers at intermediary and lower levels.
"Today I see how MPs feel without power and it is the same story in all the parties, be it Congress or BJP. I want to empower the 720-odd MPs in Parliament.
"I want to give voice to the middle tier... empower the middle-level leaders. There are some parties in India which are run by one leader (BSP), two leaders (SP), five to six leaders (BJP) and 15 to 20 leaders (Congress). My priority is that I want to empower the MPs as also the 5,000-odd legislators in various states," he is reported to have said.
Rahul’s remarks may have disheartened a large number of Congress workers but it potentially generates greater hope among a select few to catch his fancy to be claimant for the top post should UPA III be there.