India’s ruling Congress party is expected to name the unproven 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate on Friday as it turns once again to the country’s top political dynasty to revive its fortunes.
The Nehru-Gandhi family have dominated India’s post-independence history and Rahul’s mother Sonia, current party president, is credited with engineering a surprise victory in 2004.
But after two terms in power and with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh retiring, Congress is widely forecast to promote Rahul in the hope that he can help avoid a looming defeat for the party in national elections due by May.
The elevation would cement Rahul’s faltering rise to the top of the party, answering questions about his appetite for power but still leaving doubts about his ability and instincts.
Asked whether the decision would be announced at a meeting of top Congress leaders in New Delhi on Friday, Information Minister Manish Tewari declined to answer but gave his backing to Rahul.
“Sentiments (of support for Rahul) have been expressed and I am sure, as our party president has already indicated, a decision would be taken at the right time,” Tewari told AFP.
But analysts and media reports see the party as readying an announcement on Rahul, who gave a rare interview this week in which he indicated that he was finally prepared to bow to the wishes of his colleagues.
“I will take up whatever responsibility is given to me by my party in the future and do it diligently to the best of my abilities,” Gandhi told the Hindi-language Dainik Bhaskar newspaper on Tuesday.
Rasheed Kidwai, who has written two books on Congress including a biography of party president Sonia, says the party has been “more or less pushed” to make an announcement, given its prospects.
It had initially said it would not reveal its candidate for premier, but then U-turned in the face of gains by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its popular leader, hardline Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.
“On Jan 16 and Jan 17 there will be a concerted effort (within the party) to have Rahul Gandhi accept his nomination as a PM candidate,” Kidwai told AFP.
Rahul, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were prime ministers, is widely portrayed as a reluctant leader whose refusal of the political spotlight has frustrated colleagues.
In January, as he accepted a promotion to party vice-president, he talked about power as “poison.”
As an elected MP, he has maintained a low profile inside and outside parliament and his track record as a figurehead for the Congress party in state elections is poor.
The Economic Times sounded a note of caution Wednesday with a report citing unnamed Congress sources that said a decision might yet be delayed.
One survey published last week in The Times of India newspaper found that only 14 per cent of voters believed Rahul Gandhi would make the best prime minister for India.
A total of 58 per cent of respondents wanted Modi while 25 per cent opted for Arvind Kejriwal, the head of a new anti-corruption party which secured a spectacular victory in Delhi state elections in December.
Kay Benedict, a veteran Delhi-based political commentator who follows the Congress party closely, said that “a decision was likely.” ”An overwhelming section of the Congress leadership feels that he should be projected as the party needs a face,” Benedict said.
“The BJP have Modi and newly formed anti-corruption party, Aam Aadmi (common people’s) party have Arvind Kejriwal,” Benedict said.
“Even though everyone knows that they will sit in opposition, the decision is likely as many think that Rahul is untainted by the baggage of Congress-led government and even personally enjoys a clean image,” she added.