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NEW DELHI: In a much anticipated moment for Congress, Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for party chief on Monday and is now just a few steps away from taking charge from mother Sonia Gandhi, setting the stage for a “Rahul era” in the organisation.
Accompanied by former PM Manmohan Singh and other party seniors, the Gandhi scion presented himself before returning officer and senior MP Mullapally Ramachandran here on Monday morning. This set off a three-hour procession of All India Congress Committee (AICC) veterans and delegations from state units proposing Rahul’s name for the top party post, with 89 sets of nominations in his favour.
AICC chief Sonia Gandhi signed the papers but stayed away from the party office, in what seemed intended to ensure the spotlight remained on Rahul and the electoral process. Sister Priyanka was also not present, perhaps due to similar considerations and also as she does not hold a formal party post.
Before reaching Congress’s Akbar Road headquarters, Rahul visited former President Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh at their residences, with Singh calling the 47-year-old leader the “darling of the Congress”. A sizeable presence of seniors seemed to project continuity and a signal that the exchange of baton will not mean radical change.
Rahul’s elevation gains importance as it comes amid a cut-throat campaign for the prized state of Gujarat, the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress’s performance in the election is likely to impact the tone of Rahul’s start in the high office. An upset win will be a huge boost and a reduction in BJP numbers can also provide some solace. However, a stark defeat will be a downer.
The leader’s decision to finally grasp his legacy as part of a long tradition of the Nehru-Gandhi family will turn the spotlight on the role and prominence of younger leaders close to him and his more apolitical backroom. Not all senior leaders in Congress have the access and rapport with him as they did with Sonia.
Congress will scrutinise the nomination papers on Tuesday which will make it clear if Rahul is the only candidate in the fray. While AICC election authority comprising Ramachandran, Madhusudan Mistry and Bhubaneshwar Kalita refused to comment till scrutiny if anybody other than Rahul had filed papers, sources denied the possibility of there being a contest.
If uncontested, the results will be announced on December 11, the last day for withdrawal of nominations.
By all indications, Rahul will assume charge of Congress next week, a much-delayed development that is set to change the party in the way it looks and works, though not to the extent it had appeared likely when Rahul first appeared on the scene as an AICC general secretary during UPA-1.
As the day broke and delegations moved towards the party office, what stood out was the participation of veterans as well as young Congressmen. Serving and former chief ministers, Union ministers, present and former members of Parliament joined with gusto.
It has sent a message that much has changed since the “GenNext vs Old Guard” debate gripped Congress, with veterans assured of a role in party affairs as well in strategy.
The elevation will mark a change in the Congress brass after 19 years since Sonia took the reins in 1998. A section of the party had been pushing for Rahul’s elevation for the last few years, especially since the Congress was ousted from power in 2014.
Congress postponed internal polls for the last two years in what was attributed to Rahul’s reluctance to assume the presidency.