NEW DELHI: Rahul Gandhi may have to wait further. The Congress vice-president’s much-awaited elevation scheduled for October as the party boss may take another step. For, the party is apprehensive over his image of a part-time politician coupled with a poor track-record of winning elections.
As a face saver, the party strategists have now come up with a Plan B under which the Gandhi family scion will be made working president with Sonia Gandhi continuing to head the 132-year-old organisation, a senior leader considered close to the family said.
The plan B has been discussed among the Gandhi family members and a few close advisers like Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and her latest trouble-shooter Ghulam Nabi Azad, the sources said.
Rahul Gandhi has faced criticism for being a casual leader. His notable abstentions at crucial moments—including the 53-day sabbatical during land ordinance protests in 2015, the recent visit to Italy to meet his grandmother in June ahead of presidential polls, and his foreign trips in August and September when strategies for poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh needed to be firmed up—have often been cited by his critics who brand him as a 9 to 5 politician.
The fact that Rahul can’t be credited with any major electoral win since taking over as the party vice-president in 2013 also goes against the young leader given he has to fight 24x7 leaders such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
His performance as a parliamentarian shows him in poor light. In 2014, he refused to head the Congress in the Lok Sabha and instead fielded veteran Mallikarjun Kharge to counter the Modi government.
“These facts can’t be overlooked,” said a senior AICC functionary, who is jittery about the change in top leadership. Party insiders said reasons for letting Sonia at the helm of affairs are many. She commands respect among the rank and file, and leaders of opposition parties such as NCP’s Sharad Pawar, JD(U) rebel Sharad Yadav, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee, SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati find it easier to relate with Sonia than Rahul. She has also led the party from the front during grave political challenges.
The Congress’ internal polls will conclude in October when Rahul is expected to participate in the election for the post of party president. Sonia has held the post since 1998. Sources said if Rahul becomes working president, four vice presidents may be appointed to assist him.
Sonia, 70, has not been keeping good health over the past year. The leadership mantle was to pass to Rahul, 47. However, given his style of functioning and his uneasy equations with veterans, the Congress vice-president’s promotion has been a concern within the party.