- Rahul Gandhi at the swearing-in-ceremony of India’s revamped cabinet, New Delhi, Oct. 28.
Momentum is building for Rahul Gandhi to lead the ruling Congress party into elections in 2014.
Late Thursday, Congress leaders nominated Mr. Gandhi to head the party’s election coordination panel for the polls.
It’s a significant move as Mr. Gandhi, until now, has taken a back seat in the party’s politics. He’s a general secretary of the party and head of its youth wing but has been reluctant to take on a more prominent official role in government.
Many Congress leaders view Mr. Gandhi as crucial to the party’s future success and as a potential future prime minister. His grandmother was Indira Gandhi, a former prime minister and his great-grandfather was Jawaharlal Nehru, who led the country for almost two decades after independence. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, is current president of Congress.
“He is the number two in the party and there is no doubt he will be leading us in the next Lok Sabha elections,” Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi told India Real Time.
Sanjay Kumar, a political analyst with the Center for Study of Developing Societies, said it was becoming clear that Ms. Gandhi would take a back seat in the upcoming elections, mainly because of health issues. Last year, Ms. Gandhi underwent surgery in the U.S. for an undisclosed medical condition.
Mr. Kumar noted that Mr. Gandhi has built experience in the past two years after leading Congress’s unsuccessful state election campaigns in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
“This is the right time. 2009 would have been too early as he wouldn’t have had much experience. Now, he has had the experience of leading the party in the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar polls,” Mr. Kumar said.
Congress and its allies won the last two national elections, in 2004 and 2009, but had to form coalitions to govern. Though many observers expect the party to again emerge with the most number of seats in 2014, they predict its tally likely will be much lower than the 206 seats it won in the 2009 polls, giving its coalition parties – many of them regional organizations – even more sway in national government.
Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, spokesman for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the nomination was just a “formality” as Mr. Gandhi has been leading the party for some time now. “There will be no impact on the electoral prospects of the BJP from this,” he said.
Mr. Gandhi has often appeared a reluctant leader. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh publicly has asked for him to join the government. But Mr. Gandhi was again absent from the list of new ministers appointed in the coalition’s latest cabinet reshuffle last month.
The elections come at a difficult time for the party, amid slowing economic growth and a slew of corruption allegations against the government. Despite this, the party has a nationwide network and is helped by the name recognition of the Gandhi family.
Mr. Gandhi has been vocal on select issues such as land rights for farmers and tribal populations and drug use among youth. But it’s unclear what he thinks about Congress’s massive welfare spending since 2009, which helped get the party reelected but have added to the country’s debt.
In an appearance at a Congress rally this month, Mr. Gandhi stood behind recent economic overhauls unveiled by Mr. Singh’s government. They include allowing foreign supermarkets to invest in India for the first time.