It was off-camera but on the record. In a throwaway remark that had deep political significance, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said he was ready to play a more active role in the party and the government.
The decision has been taken but the party leadership will decide on the timing, Gandhi said.
Caught utterly by surprise, the party and government were until late this evening seeking to absorb the implications of the statement. The party issued a clarification to explain he might be joining the government. Although the 40-year-old heir to the Nehru Gandhi mantle already has an important position in the party — he handles the youth wings of the Congress — he has been fending off pressure that he take on a more active role in government. But faced with his mother’s ill health and with general elections due in the summer of 2014, Gandhi appears to have decided his government debut cannot wait.
Hounded by media queries since the morning, when Rahul Gandhi made the comment in the Parliament corridors, the Congress media department came out with an official statement by late evening. “We will be very happy if Rahul Gandhi takes on some more responsibility and it will be a very welcome step... What responsibility (whether in the government or in the party) and when is up to the party leadership and Rahulji to decide.”
There is no clarity on how the decision was taken. Last week, Congress President Sonia Gandhi had called a meeting at her residence, attended by party leaders Digvijay Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Ahmad Patel and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. There is speculation a decision to launch Gandhi in government was taken at that meeting. Two days ago, Rahul Gandhi sent a text message to all his colleagues in the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), congratulating them on a successful election process. There appeared to be an air of finality about the message that puzzled recipients, as the election of the NSUI president was yet to be held. The incumbent is over the age limit to hold the post. On Wednesday, Sonia Gandhi said Rahul had to make up his own mind and no one else could speak for him.
A Cabinet reshuffle appears inevitable in the wake of Rahul’s statement.