Congress gears up for younger look with Rahul at No 2



New Delhi: The Congress is gearing up for a younger look with general secretary Rahul Gandhi set to assume a more prominent role in the party, insiders say.

With his elevation as vice president or working president likely next week, Rahul Gandhi, 42, is expected to give responsible positions to many young leaders in the All India Congress Committee in tune with the changing demographics of the country and to make the 127-year-old party more in sync with the times.

"Rahul Gandhi is already number two after party president Sonia Gandhi," Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said while reflecting the mood in the party.

"The party has been and will bring in more young leaders."

"The power shift coming in the Congress is important. It would help the party attract more young voters who will form a large percentage of the population," Nisar-ul Haq, who teaches political science at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, told IANS.

Speculation about an AICC reshuffle and Rahul Gandhi's upgrade gained ground after he chose not to join the Manmohan Singh government in the Oct 28 cabinet rejig.

Sources said Rahul Gandhi is expected to lead the party in the slew of assembly polls in 2013 and the general elections in 2014.

Rahul Gandhi has been involved with important decisions of the party in the past few years. He played a key role in finalising the list of 22 ministers who were sworn in Oct 28.

His imprint was clearly visible in the cabinet rejig in which Jyotiraditya Scindia (41), Sachin Pilot (35), Jitendra Singh (41) and Manish Tewari (47) were given independent charge of ministries to prepare them for future leadership roles and bring in fresh ideas in governance.

"The message was that performance will be rewarded," said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.

Rahul Gandhi also insisted that the important human resource development ministry be given to MM Pallam Raju, who was upgraded to the cabinet rank, and that Shashi Tharoor, who brings with him experience of being former UN undersecretary general, be reinducted.

Rahul Gandhi is expected to give important roles to his close aides, including party MPs Ashok Tanwar, Meenakshi Natarajan, Mausam Noor and Manicka Tagore, in the impending AICC reshuffle.

Congress sources said new faces in important organisational positions would convey the message that the party was prepared to face future challenges.

"The outlook of the young voters is different. The generational change in the Congress is welcome from that point of view," political commentator N Bhaskara Rao told IANS.

"The popular perception is that there are too many old leaders in the Congress. It is time to bring in the young faces," he said.

At Rahul Gandhi's behest, some young leaders could also find a place in the all powerful Congress Working Committee, the party's highest decision-making body, said the sources.

The blueprint for the AICC reshuffle has been prepared. The Congress chief will decide the timing to announce it, said the sources.

Together with the new-look cabinet, which brought in a mix of youth and experience, the AICC reshuffle is expected to ready a new team which will take on the challenges of nine assembly elections in 2013 culminating in the big electoral battle of the 2014 general elections.

PTI