India's Sonia Gandhi stalls son Rahul's PM candidacy push
NEW DELHI, India – India's ruling party was set to put on a united front Friday at a mass meeting after its leader Sonia Gandhi stalled a push to name her son Rahul as prime ministerial candidate at looming elections.
The Congress party conclave, which will see thousands of members gather in the capital New Delhi, is being billed as an opportunity to plot a way to avoid humiliation when the country goes to the polls in May.
After a decade in power, Congress is lagging well behind the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the opinion polls, with voters turned off by an economic slowdown and a string of corruption scandals.
With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh retiring after two terms, the party had been expected to nominate the 43-year-old Rahul as its choice for premier at the conclave.
But the prospects of such an elevation were dashed when it emerged that Sonia Gandhi, who is the party's powerful president, had made her opposition to such a move clear at a committee meeting of Congress leaders on Thursday.
"All the members of the CWC (Congress Working Committee) wanted him to be announced as the PM candidate but the Congress president intervened," Congress spokesman Janardan Dwivedi told reporters.
"She said: 'This is not the party's tradition (to announce its PM candidate before elections). Just because some party has declared the PM candidate, does not mean that Congress will do the same'."
While it had already been agreed that Rahul would lead the Congress campaign, there has been a growing push within the party to name him as candidate for prime minister after the BJP declared Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its choice back in September.
Since Modi's elevation, the Hindu nationalist BJP has stretched its lead in the polls over Congress and the expected nomination of Rahul this week was seen as a desperate bid by the ruling party to avert humiliation.
Rahul is already number two in the Congress as deputy president to his mother and he is also chief strategist for the national elections. Both were expected to address members of the conclave.
Sonia Gandhi, who is the widow of the slain former premier Rajiv Gandhi, is seen as India's most powerful politician – even more than Singh.
Dwivedi said that Rahul had told members of the committee that he was willing to fulfil any role that was bestowed on him by the party.
"Rahul Gandhi said that: 'I have said before also. I am a dedicated worker of party, whatever responsibility party gives me, I will carry it out'," said the spokesman.
The media-shy Rahul is often seen as a reluctant leader and his previous refusal to embrace the political spotlight has frustrated colleagues.
Although his father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India, he has previously likened power to "poison."
The Nehru-Gandhi family have dominated India's post-independence history and Rahul's mother Sonia is credited with engineering a surprise victory in 2004.
Despite fronting that victory, the Italian-born Sonia was never the candidate for prime minister and instead allowed Singh to head up the government.
Senior Congress figures hope that Rahul, who is nearly 40 years younger than Singh and has not been tainted by the swirl of corruption that has dogged the present administration, can work some of the family's electoral magic when the country goes to vote.
Congress figures talked up Rahul's credentials on Thursday, describing him as a "modern and progressive" leader.
"He has got a panoramic view of most issues in India," said national lawmaker Sandeep Dikshit.
"I think he would be most able to lead us but whether that decision is taken on not, that's up to the Congress working committee to decide," he told NDTV.
But a survey last week showed that only 14 percent of voters believe Rahul Gandhi would make the best prime minister.
The survey for The Times of India found 58 percent of respondents want Modi to be the next prime minister while 25 percent opted for the anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal. – Rappler.com