The Congress party today named 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi as the new president of the party. However, the official elevation of the Gandhi scion to the top post will be done on December 16.
The development marks a generational shift in the grand old party. Rahul will take over the mantle from his mother Sonia Gandhi who headed the Congress for 19 years since 1998, the longest-serving president of India’s Grand Old Party (GOP).
Rahul’s unopposed election was foresighted as no one challenged his nomination or file papers. A total 89 nominations were filed for Rahul Gandhi by various Congress leaders and workers from across the country.
The Congress' Central Election Authority chairman Mullapally Ramachandran, and CEA members Madhusudan Mistry and Bhubaneswar Kalita announced that Rahul was the only nomination for the top job.
"Rahul Gandhi has been elected Congress president unopposed. Nine nomination proposals were received, all were valid. Since there was only one candidate.I hereby declare Rahul Gandhi elected as the president of Indian National Congress," Ramachandran said.
Rahul Gandhi would, however, be handed over the certificate appointing him the party president on December 16 in the presence of Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders, Ramachandran said.
Senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, praised Rahul Gandhi’s leadership saying, “Entire country has lots of expectations from Rahul Gandhi. Much before he was elected he has shown his mettle. He knows his responsibility.”
“He has shown his mettle in Gujarat. The entire BJP including the PM himself, 80 ministers are sitting there for a month but are still unable to counter him,” he added.
The Congress has been losing state after state since the 2014 Lok Sabha election with the exception of Punjab. Rahul's elevation would come just two days ahead of the counting of votes for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly poll.
Rahul Gandhi will be handed over the certificate of his election as the party President on 16th December in AICC office: Mullappally Ramachandran, Congress pic.twitter.com/7gb7JTW1zb— ANI (@ANI) December 11, 2017
A sure-footed Rahul Gandhi powered a spirited campaign for the Congress in Gujarat, and a win in the election, which many analysts say could be dead heat between the two parties, would come as a massive boost for him.
"Delivering in Gujarat will be important as it is the immediate test facing Rahul Gandhi, who has mounted a strong anti-BJP campaign in the state and led personally from the front. We are looking at victory in Gujarat," said a Congress leader and former chief minister.
Mahila Congress chief and party spokesperson Sushmita Dev said reorganising the party would be another major task for him.
"Every post comes with a challenge. He has to rebuild the party at the grassroots and strengthen the ideological base. His undisputed election as party president is a sign of his strength. He will have to take everyone along from the AICC level right up to the states," she said.
— ANI (@ANI) December 11, 2017
Striking a balance between the old guard and the young leaders would be a key to running the organisation which has many seasoned politicians whose wisdom he could use as he steers the party.
Rahul had said in the past that he would draw upon a blend of experience of the old and the energy of the young.
"Initial signs are encouraging since he put veterans like Ashok Gehlot and Sushil Kumar Shinde in charge of elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh respectively and was willing to bank on them," said a leader. He also got appointed young leaders as secretaries.
Clarity on the party's ideological stand on the issue of Hindutva would also be important as he is being seen as projecting the Congress' "soft Hindutva" with his visit to temples in Gujarat. He has also proclaimed himself a "Shiv bhakt".
Uttarakhand: Celebration at Congress office in Dehradun after Rahul Gandhi elected as the party President. pic.twitter.com/6fWeG1bGYt— ANI (@ANI) December 11, 2017
These visits are also being seen as an attempt to blunt the BJP's accusation against the party of Muslim appeasement.
"This is to course-correct after it was felt that an overtly pro-minority image of the Congress undermined its electoral prospects on the eve of 2014 Lok Sabha elections," a party veteran noted, adding cobbling together electoral alliances will also be key to the future growth of the party.
Another former union minister said every state had its own set of challenges and Rahul Gandhi would be expected to take informed decisions in each by taking everyone along.
Rahul Gandhi has already been taking all major decisions in the party even though his formal elevation was delayed due to a long-drawn internal election process.
The deadline set by the Election Commission for conclusion of the organisational elections in the Congress expires on December 31.
Organisational elections in the Congress were due in 2015. The party constitution provides for elections to be held every five years. The last such polls were held in 2010.
Rahul Gandhi, who was initially hesitant about taking over the reins from Sonia Gandhi, who held the party's top post for 19 years, will be the sixth member and fifth generation leader of the Nehru-Gandhi clan to occupy the post.
The others are Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.
Some eminent leaders who held the post in the pre-independence era include Mahatma Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Abul Kalam Azad, Vallabhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad.
Eminent people like Madan Mohan Malviya, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Dadabhai Naoroji, Annie Besant and Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee, the first party president, also led the party in the pre-independence era.