Sonia Gandhi wants to retire in 2016, says book
New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi wants to retire when she turns 70 in 2016 and this is what has prompted the party to give a 'bigger role' to her son Rahul Gandhi, says a book. In an updated version of his book "24 Akbar Road" (Hachette India), journalist-writer Rasheed Kidwai says the Congress has been rattled by the senior Gandhi's decision.
According to Kidwai, the Congress president shared her mind with senior party colleagues Dec 9, 2012 -- her last birthday. "Stunned by the announcement -- after all, hardly any Indian politician ever retires -- nervous party leaders requested her to let Rahul 'take charge'," the book says.
"Efforts to persuade the 42-year-old Rahul began but the (the) then (Congress) general secretary dithered. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once again pointed at his repeated offers to Rahul to join the cabinet."
Manmohan Singh insisted that Rahul Gandhi should choose between a cabinet berth and the formal number two position in the Congress. "The prime minister conveyed to Rahul that his reluctance to be an effective power centre was hurting both the party and government. Rahul then agreed to opt for organizational work."
It was then that Rahul Gandhi was made the Congress vice president at the Jaipur 'Chintan Shivir' Jan 19 this year. Kidwai says that despite Rahul Gandhi's elevation to the post of vice president, Sonia Gandhi's retirement deadline continues to rattle Congress leaders.
"Amid the jubilation at Rahul's anointment as the vice president at the Jaipur session, many in the Congress are still nervous. The anxiety stems from their experience of major changes each time a transition in the leadership takes place."
Unnamed senior Congress leaders are quoted as saying that the real impact of Rahul Gandhi's elevation would be felt through his policies, planning and style of functioning. "Sonia Gandhi is seen as too tolerant a person who avoids enforcing discipline but has a knack for winning over adversaries and reaching out to alliance leaders," the book says.
"She also leans left-of-centre on most policy matters. In contrast, Rahul is seen among the ranks as a leader in the Rajiv-Sanjay mould - frank and decisive. "His thrust on reforms, urban voters, technology, the youth and gender sensitivity may force many party leaders and regional satraps to shape up or ship out."
Rahul Gandhi's style of functioning as party general secretary between 2007 and 2013 and now as the vice president "showed he did not seem in a great hurry or having a fixed plan.
"There were some who thought his way to political power in Delhi was via Lucknow but the assembly polls of 2012 (in Uttar Pradesh) proved disastrous for both Rahul and Congress," which won just 28 seats and came a distant fourth in India's most populous state.
According to the book, Rahul Gandhi -- the Amethi MP -- had "seriously considered becoming the candidate for chief minister but the AICC (All India Congress Committee) shot down the idea". Kidwai writes: "The question currently being asked in party circles is that how something as important as this was not discussed at the Congress Working Committee.
"Apparently, Rahul's aides cited two reasons why he should not take up any position in Uttar Pradesh.” One, it is not an easy state to govern. Two, Rahul cannot restrict himself to a particular state or region.
"The argument was that if Rahul identified himself with Uttar Pradesh and if for some reason the voters rejected him, it would affect the party's goal of establishing a government under his leadership in Delhi." According to Kidwai, political exigencies and equations within the Congress are such that Rahul Gandhi cannot be seen as abdicating the prime ministerial post.
Sonia Gandhi's long-term strategy for the 2014 general election and her possible retirement in 2016 hinges upon Manmohan Singh's clean image and good governance plank, the book says. "By 2014, the Congress, effectively under Rahul, would need to display Manmohan's tenure as exemplary.
"On the other hand, a tainted UPA-II may force the party to sit out as during 1996-2003 when P.V. Narasimha Rao's numerous acts of omissions and commissions had a telling affect on the Congress' fortunes."