After intense speculation over his elevation that has been going on since 2013, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi appears all set to take over as Congress president in the first week of December. The much-awaited move is likely to take place in the middle of the Gujarat polls and the Gandhi scion will face trial by fire in less than a fortnight of his taking charge of the party as the results of the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections will be announced on December 18.
The Congress Working Committee, under the leadership of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, on Monday ratified the schedule of the polls for the post of Congress chief. As per the schedule, the nomination process will begin on December 1 and end on December 4. If Mr Gandhi is the only one to file the nomination, as is expected, he will be declared elected unopposed after the scrutiny of nominations take place on December 5.
However, in the unlikely event that there is more than one candidate in the fray, the election for the top party post will take place on December 16, and counting of votes and declaration of results will be on December 19. December 11 has been set as the last date for the withdrawal of nominations.
After Mr Gandhi is virtually anointed to the top post, what political watchers are keenly waiting to see is what kind of generational shift takes place in the organisation. Will the young turks hold sway, with the old guard completely sidelined, or will it be a judicious mix of the two? Young turks like Lok Sabha MPs Jyotiraditya Scindia and Deependra Hooda are expected to be named to key positions in the party. Insiders say there will be two key advisers who will report directly to Mr Gandhi. Young MP Sushmita Dev has already been named chief of the Mahila Congress while Gaurav Gogoi has been appointed to several key committees of the party.
The bigger question is how Mr Gandhi would be using the old guard. Though he has always said there is a place for both young and old in the party, interestingly, in the last few Assembly elections, Mr Gandhi has had to rely more upon the seasoned political managers of Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s era to smoothen the edges. In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, it was Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad who interceded in seat distribution. In Gujarat, it is Ashok Gehlot and Kapil Sibal who are negotiating with the Patidars.
In the past couple of months, Mr Gandhi has taken the battle directly to the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah camp. The social media, the BJP’s bastion, is being invaded by the Congress. Leading the charge is Mr Gandhi, who is targeting the Prime Minister and his government. His followers on Twitter have increased by a million, and the BJP has even alleged that “fake bots” were increasing Mr Gandhi’s newfound social media popularity. What is more interesting is that perhaps for the first time it is Mr Gandhi who is setting agenda of the political discourse, instead to simply responding to his opponents. Every time he tweets or addresses a rally, the BJP is forced to depute Central ministers to respond to him.
When Rahul Gandhi takes over, he will become the sixth member of his family to become Congress president — after his great-great-grandfather Motilal Nehru, followed by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Mrs Sonia Gandhi has in fact been the longest-serving Congress president, over 19 years.
Taking a dig at the Congress, BJP spokesman G.V.L. Narsimha Rao said: “In the dynastic Congress Party, performance and capability do not matter. Thus, despite a disastrous track record, Rahul’s elevation as the next Congress president was a foregone conclusion. The timing of the elevation though is curious. It seems Sonia Gandhi wanted to pass the leadership mantle to son Rahul before yet another impending defeat in Gujarat, which would have made it embarrassing for the Congress to ‘reward’ him after a defeat.”