With Rahul Gandhi poised to replace his mother Sonia Gandhi as the Congress president, it is his “humble man” and “friend of the poor” image which party strategists are trying to highlight against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-industrialist persona.
On Friday, Mrs Gandhi broke her silence on her son’s proposed elevation in the party and told reporters, on the sidelines of a book launch, “Rahul Gandhi will be Congress president soon”.
The clamour for Mr Gandhi to take over as party president has grown over the past few weeks. Former Union minister Sachin Pilot indicated recently that Mr Gandhi will take over the reins of the outfit after Diwali.
Sources in the Congress told this newspaper that the party is of the opinion that Mr Gandhi’s campaign in Gujarat has boosted his image with his pointed attacks on Mr Modi.
The most recent tweet on Mr Gandhi’s official twitter handle is a poem on hunger and a report on how India had come down in the Global Hunger Index.
In an earlier tweet, Mr Gandhi took a jibe at the Prime Minister’s remark that a “handful of people” were trying to spread pessimism in India. After the International Monetary Fund and World Bank downgraded India’s growth forecast in their latest reports, the Congress vice-president tweeted: “These pessimists are going global. Why don’t they just go away?”
The BJP was quick to hit back with Union minister Jitendra Singh taking pot shots at the Congress scion, saying that it was too late for Mr Gandhi to change.
“Don’t you think 50 is too old to be coming of age?” Mr Singh said about Mr Gandhi, 47, being projected as a youth leader.
Trying to corner Mr Gandhi on the development plank, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the Congress did everything when it was in power at the Centre to ensure that the Sardar Sarovar project was not completed.
He also attacked the Gandhi scion over his recent visits to temples in Gujarat saying, “I am getting curious as Rahul Gandhi is visiting temples and paying obeisance to gods with sincerity. I am told that social media has highlighted that local leaders told him how to do aarti.”
Political strategists feel that Mr Gandhi’s visits to temples are an effort to counter the BJP’s Hindutva plank.
Various state units of the Congress, including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have passed resolutions seeking elevation of Mr Gandhi as the party president.
Congress sources said that members of the party`s Central Election Authority (CEA), which is overseeing the process for electing the next party president, are expected to meet Mrs Gandhi in a day or so to apprise her of the completion of various phases of the polls.
The Congress president will then call a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to approve a tentative schedule of the poll, before being notified by the CEA.
The elevation of Mr Gandhi has been in the works for a long time, with party leaders saying that the time has now come for him to take over as party chief. He was appointed the party’s vice-president in 2013. His elevation will come before the crucial Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh where the Congress is facing a tough challenge from the BJP.