New Delhi : In a generational shift at the top in the Congress , Rahul Gandhi was on Monday announced as the new President of the grand old party. Addressing a press conference , Mullappally Ramachandran , the chairman of the Congress central election authority , announced: “Rahul Gandhi has been elected Congress President unopposed.”
His mother and Congress longest –serving president Sonia Gnadhi is likely to formally hand over the baton to him on December 16. The 47- year –old Gandhi will be the sixth Nehru- Gandhi scion to helm the party. In all ,over 90 sets of nominations were said to have been filed supporting Gandhi before the deadline expired at 3 pm on Decemeber 04. Had there been any contest , today would have been the last date for withdrawal. Since there was no other nomination , Rahul was declared elected today. While Pageantry would herald the dawn of a new era in the party which has ruled the country for over hald – a – centrury since independence, the 47 – year-old scion of the Nehru- Gandhi family will face the daunting task of restoring lost glory to the party whose fortunes have been dwindling in the recent past. Today, the party, which once controlled almost the entire country, has its governments in just five states and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
Rahul Gandhi would, however, be handed over the certificate appointing him the party president on December 16 in the presence of Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders. Sonia Gandhi officially handed over the mantle of the 132 – year old party to her son at around 11 am today after Rahul Gandhi were met leaders fromm across the country at the Congress’s headquarters , party sources said. The Congress has been losing state after state since the 2014 Lok Sabha election with the exception of Punjab.
Rahul Gandhi's elevation comes just days ahead of the counting of votes for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly poll. A sure-footed Rahul Gandhi powered a spirited campaign for the Congress in Gujarat, and a win in the election, which many analysts say could be a dead heat between the two parties, would come as a massive boost for him.
"Delivering in Gujarat will be important as it is the immediate test facing Rahul Gandhi, who has mounted a strong anti-BJP campaign in the state and led personally from the front. We are looking at victory in Gujarat," said a Congress leader and former chief minister. Striking a balance between the old guard and the young leaders would be a key to running the organisation which has many seasoned politicians whose wisdom he could use as he steers the party. Gandhi had said in the past that he would draw upon a blend of experience of the old and the energy of the young. "Initial signs are encouraging since he put veterans like Ashok Gehlot and Sushil Kumar Shinde in charge of elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh respectively and was willing to bank on them," said a leader. He also got appointed young leaders as secretaries.
Clarity on the party's ideological stand on the issue of Hindutva would also be important as he is being seen as projecting the Congress's soft Hindutva with his visit to temples in Gujarat. He has also proclaimed himself a "Shiv bhakt". These visits are also being seen as an attempt to blunt the BJP's accusation against the party of Muslim appeasement. "This is to course-correct after it was felt that an overtly pro-minority image of the Congress undermined its electoral prospects on the eve of 2014 Lok Sabha elections," a party veteran noted, adding cobbling together electoral alliances will also be key to the future growth of the party.
Rahul Gandhi, who was initially hesitant about taking over the reins from Sonia Gandhi, who held the party's top post for 19 years, will be the sixth member and fifth generation leader of the Nehru-Gandhi clan to occupy the post. These include Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi, who became the Congress Vice President in January 2013, will succeed his mother Sonia, the longest-serving Congress chief who has helmed the party since 1998. The Gandhi scion's elevation does not come without controversy. Congress leader and now rebel Shehzad Poonawalla had voiced protests over the method of elevation, claiming it was not an 'election' but a selection, an attack that was quickly latched onto by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.