Rahul Gandhi was made the vice-president of the Congress on Saturday. And, judging by the mood at the party’s Chintan Shivir here, he could well be projected as the party’s prime ministeral candidate for the next Lok Sabha elections.
The decision to elevate Gandhi within the party was taken after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
This followed a concerted clamour for the move. The Congress, especially its youth wings, had been demanding power be passed on to young members of the party.
Senior Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi made it clear Gandhi would be the number two in the party. He said the party would later decide on the exact nature of his role but made it clear Rahul Gandhi would lead the party in the next general elections. This suggested he could be the prime ministerial candidate, subject to fulfilment of certain conditions deliberated upon internally — such as being in a position to steer a coalition, should the party manage to get the numbers.
A working committee member confirmed, on the condition of anonymity, that Gandhi was going to be the PM candidate.
The party’s national council would endorse the decision tomorrow. Fireworks had started going off early this afternoon, in anticipation of the announcement.
The Congress constitution does not visualise any specific powers for a vice-president, though this could change now. Earlier, Arjun Singh and Jiten Prasada had been given this position. The MP from Amethi on Saturday spoke on India-Pakistan relations vociferously. He had been slammed in the past for airing no views on global issues.
He said, besides steps like scaling down of the dialogue process and trade ties, Pakistan should be isolated diplomatically at the international level. He added the Congress still had little understanding of the problems of people at the grassroots — the case in point was that only two of the 70-odd members of the working group were tribals, while three were from the minority communities and four Dalits.
Congressmen in general were concerned over the growing socio-economic inequalities. There has also been demands for a 30 per cent reservation for youth within the party. On the same lines, demands had been put forward for reservation for women in the private sector and government jobs.
There was much deliberation on how to address the fiscal deficit — some were of the view that corporate houses should be roped in to take part in social welfare schemes. There was also a proposal that corporate social responsibility (CSR) should be made mandatory, and also that CSR initiatives could be linked to education and health schemes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
It was felt only a certain section had benefitted from the economic reforms and more was needed for employment generation among the rural and semi-urban sections.
To provide relief to the common man, Congressmen said, indirect taxes could be reduced while the base of direct taxes like the income tax expanded.
While there were several dissenting voices, especially from the young members of the party, about the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s economic reforms that saw diesel deregulation and hike in petrol prices, Petroleum Minister M Veerappa Moily decisively ruled out any rollback. He explained that tough steps needed to be taken, and assured all concerns would be addressed by the time the party went to the 2014 general elections.
With 350 Congressmen brainstorming for over eight hours spread across two days, the points highlighted by Sonia Gandhi, including organisational weaknesses, were addressed. All India Congress Committee General-Secretary Birender Chaudhary, speaking from his experience as the incharge for Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, admitted while the Congress had won both the states, it was a difficult task – some tended to desert the party, others rebelled. In his view, such tendencies could be curbed by adopting Rahul Gandhi’s methods in the Youth Congress — of democratisation and proportional representation.