M A I N   N E W S

Stage set for Rahulís coronation
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, January 20
Judging by the mood of the Congress delegates gathered here for the three-day AICC plenary session, the stage is being set for the coronation of the party's heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi.

The party rank and file, which was disappointed when he was not inducted into the Congress Working Committee (CWC) in the recent revamp, are now preparing to voice their disappointment at the AICC session beginning here tomorrow. The forthcoming proceedings are expected to witness an unprecedented clamour for the anointment of young Gandhi as the party's future leader.

A beginning has already been made in this direction with Shahjahanpur MP Jitin Prasad writing to the UPPCC chief Salman Khursheed that Rahul Gandhi should not confine himself to his constituency but play a larger role in the organisation. Posters and banners proclaiming him as the party's only hope have sprung up in the city while hysterical calls for "Rahul bachao, party bachao, desh bachao" will predictably reach a deafening crescendo during the session, which party cadres hope will compel Congress president Sonia Gandhi to make a public commitment about assigning him a key position in the party set-up.

In fact, all discussions in the run-up to the AICC plenary have centred around one question: Will Rahul Gandhi be formally anointed this time round? Even if there is no formal announcement, the party is hoping that at least an indication in this regard will be forthcoming at this session.

Congress insiders maintain that Rahul Gandhi was deliberately excluded from the revamped CWC as Mrs. Gandhi would prefer that he is given a formal position only after he gets the mandate from the party cadres. This could well explain the party's plans for an orchestrated "Rahul lao" campaign.

Ever since Rahul Gandhi entered Parliament as an MP from his father's Lok Sabha constituency Amethi, there has been speculation in the party that he will follow in Rajiv Gandhi's footsteps and begin his formal political training by taking on the responsibilities of an AICC general secretary.

Although it is close to two years since Rahul Gandhi came into electoral politics, the suspense about his future plans has been deepening. When the Congress president revamped her team recently, senior AICC functionaries were at pains to draw attention to the five vacancies in the party's apex decision-making body, thus suggesting that Rahul Gandhi's entry to the organisation was imminent.

Like this time, Rahul Gandhi was the cynosure of all eyes at last year's AICC meeting held at Talkatora auditorium shortly after the Congress-led UPA government came to power at the Centre. Hysterical party cadres had disrupted the proceedings as they insisted that Rahul Gandhi address the session. Bowing to public demand, the Gandhi scion put in a brief appearance on the stage but left without saying a word. Party cadres are hoping that this time round, there will be a more definitive response to their overwhelming demand.

While Rahul Gandhi promises to be the scene-stealer at the plenary, his more charismatic sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra ,who is equally popular with the party cadres and the public alike, is unlikely to put in an appearance. Despite intense speculation, her name did not figure in the list of AICC delegates from Uttar Pradesh although she has been invited in the category of distinguished visitors. Priyanka had also been invited for last year's AICC meeting but she had studiously kept away from it, apparently to keep the spotlight firmly on her brother.

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