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PM post not my priority, says Rahul
Publication Date : 07-03-2013
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is dismissing speculation that he has his eyes set on becoming India's next Prime Minister ahead of general elections expected a year from now.
Speculation is that Finance Minister P. Chidambaram may be the party's candidate for the post instead. "The Prime Minister's post is not my priority," Gandhi was quoted as telling a group of journalists and Congress lawmakers this week.
The 42-year-old lawmaker, whose mother, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, still leads the party did, however, leave his options open.
"I believe in long-term politics," he added.
The Congress government has been led for the past nine years by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, an economist chosen by Mrs Gandhi.
She declined to become Prime Minister though she led the party where the Gandhi name trumps all to victory and was in line for the post following an uproar over her Italian origin by opposition members back in 2004.
Mrs Gandhi, a widow whose husband Rajiv was assassinated, was the last Gandhi to serve as Prime Minister in the 1980s, and remains the most powerful politician in India. Holding the reins of power in the party, she has taken care of such political issues as striking up alliances to keep the government in power. Dr Singh has focused on policy issues and running the government.
That arrangement is seen to have worked and Mrs Gandhi decided to continue it during the government's current second consecutive term in power.
There are rumours that Rahul Gandhi, who many feel is not yet ready for the top post, might follow his mother's example.
Indeed, a recent cover of Outlook magazine posed the question: "Prime Minister Chidambaram?" while other Indian media have suggested that a "dhoti-clad" Tamil will next occupy the post. Chidambaram, a Tamil, exchanges his dhoti for a suit only when he travels abroad.
"It is a political move," said Uttar Pradesh-based political analyst Sudhir Panwar. "The idea of P. Chidambaram as Prime Minister has been floated by the Congress and now there's Mr Gandhi's comments. Both are linked."
Panwar noted that Indians would say Rahul Gandhi is not fit for politics if the party loses elections which must be held by May next year.
"This way Mr Gandhi will be free from any responsibilities and it may also be part of a strategy to consolidate the South Indian votes," he said.
The Congress government is going through a rough period. It fared poorly in last year's state elections because of in-fighting and poor candidate selection, and has been dealing with slowing growth in a country struggling to lift millions out of poverty.
Also worrying for the Congress has been the rise of the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who is from the main opposition party BJP and is seen as a prime ministerial hopeful. He is credited with turning the western state over the past decade into an investment hub with double digit growth often flaunted as one of the country's biggest success stories.
"Rahul Gandhi is trying to make a mark," said Dr N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies. "He is reaching out to allies and trying to build up his own relationship with leaders like Sitaram Yechury (a Left leader), preparing the cadres and re-organising the party."
Since becoming the party's vice-president in January, Mr Gandhi has been actively meeting Congress state leaders, and for the first time leaders of allied parties.
Earlier this week, though, Mr Gandhi also caused a minor controversy when he said that marriage and children are the last thing on his mind as he leads his party into general elections.
"If I get married and have children... then I will be concerned about bequeathing my position to my children... Sometimes I feel that status quo is better," he was quoted as saying.
In spite of his recent remarks, the Congress still sees Mr Gandhi as a future Prime Minister.
"I am sure that one day, Rahul Gandhi will become the Prime Minister," said Congress leader Rashid Alvi.
"Both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have proven it. That is the difference between us and other parties, where everybody is fighting for posts."