New Delhi: It all began with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi chairing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s top decision-making body, on 7 November. The meeting nominated him to the top post subject to party president Sonia Gandhi’s approval. Weeks later, the 46-year-old leader presided over the party’s Foundation Day for the first time on 28 December.
On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi once again presided over the party’s national convention against demonetisation, took on an aggressive stance and launched a scathing attack against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government.
Interestingly, Sonia Gandhi was conspicuous by her absence on all three occasions triggering a buzz at 24, Akbar Road that India’s oldest political party is finally seeing a slow transition from the mother to the son.
The big question, however, is: has Rahul Gandhi emerged from the shadow of Sonia Gandhi? A section in the party believes he has.
Party functionaries and leaders said the “slow transition” started with the CWC meeting and then the Gandhi scion led the party’s charge during the winter session both inside and outside Parliament.
A senior Congress functionary, considered close to the Gandhi family, said that in a way demonetisation has proved to be the key rallying point for Rahul Gandhi.
“The handover of the top post is going to be a gradual process and it is unfolding now. Demonetisation has played a key role as he has been the most vocal Congress leader on the issue. He not just led the party’s protest during the winter session but also led other opposition parties in coming together on the issue. So naturally, even the Wednesday convention was presided by him,” said the Congress leader, quoted above, who did not want to be named.
Congress leaders said that Sonia Gandhi has distanced not just from the organisational level, her engagement in poll-bound states has also decreased. While Rahul Gandhi has led all the state polls campaign ever since 2014, Sonia Gandhi has asked him to oversee most election-related decisions, including alliance formations, campaign strategies and candidate selection.
“We see it as an attempt on her behalf to put out a strong message to the party. Almost everyone is now directed to 12, Tughlak Road (his official residence) for all key decision-making talks. The handover of party responsibilities for all practical purposes is in full swing now,” a general secretary of the party pointed out, on the condition of anonymity.
Political analysts agree.
“I would call it an exit without an announcement. This is the third such crucial meeting in a little over two months that Sonia Gandhi has missed. She has made limited public appearances. The only person talking on policy level or taking on Modi directly in Congress now is Rahul Gandhi,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“This is the sort of inheritance where the party wants to avoid any labels. I would say what Sonia Gandhi is looking at is trying to give him a chance to emerge on his own and not just because of an official takeover,” he added.
Sonia Gandhi, who took over the Congress helm in May 1998, is already the longest serving president of India’s oldest political party. Rahul Gandhi took over as the No. 2 in the organization in January 2013 and the clamour for his elevation to the top post has just grown in the last two years.