Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party president a formality, focus shifts to rebuilding Congress


New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi is a step away from taking over as the next president of the Congress—the oldest political party in the country.

On Monday he filed his nomination papers and will in all likelihood be elected unopposed to the top party post, replacing his mother Sonia Gandhi.

With his elevation now a mere formality, the focus is shifting to how Rahul Gandhi will rebuild the Congress party, yet to recover from its drubbing in the 16th general election in 2014, to take on an ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The entire senior leadership of the Congress was in attendance at the 24, Akbar Road party headquarters in New Delhi, to signal unanimous backing for the 47-year-old political heir apparent to Sonia Gandhi—who has been party president for nearly two decades.

Rahul Gandhi will be the sixth leader from the Nehru-Gandhi family to occupy the top post. This will invite a fair share of criticism. In fact, on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as much during a political rally in Gujarat. “Now even Congress leaders accept that the Congress is a family and not a party,” he said.

Senior party leaders feel that Gandhi is likely to make changes in the party’s top organization after his elevation.

“Team Rahul was already taking over key posts in the party and we can expect a few more changes in the months to come. Monday for us was an opportunity to bring the old guard and the young blood together and send a message that the party unanimously supports Gandhi’s candidature,” a senior party leader said, requesting anonymity.

Political analysts do not believe that the Congress party is undergoing a “transformational change”.

“It is not yet official but the suspense is over. He now needs to get down to bring the party back to where it belonged and restore its pride,” N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst said.

“I don’t see it as a transformational change because that requires a fundamental structural change and a change in agenda. I would call this a generational shift because Rahul Gandhi has been at the helm of party affairs even before the formal takeover took place,” Rao added.

When asked if there was any other candidate, Mullapally Ramachandran, chairman of the party’s Central Election Authority, which is authorized to hold internal polls, said that it would be known only after scrutiny of nominations.

“Today (Monday) was the last date for filing nominations and now the deadline is over. We have received a total of 89 nominations,” he told reporters at a press conference.

In case there is a contest, polling will take place on 16 December and results will be declared on 19 December, the day after the results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections are announced.

According to a news report by the Press Trust of India, there were five sets of nomination forms filed on Rahul Gandhi’s behalf by top Congress leaders, including party general secretaries, in-charge in various states and chief ministers of party-ruled states including one set by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.