Decks cleared for Rahul, likely to be named PM candidate at Jan 17 meet

Rahul GandhiMost of the Congress leaders are in favour of the party breaking from the practice of choosing its leader after the elections.

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formally making the much-expected announcement of not seeking a third term in office, the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress's PM candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections now appears to a mere formality, party sources said. Although there are still differences over the timing of his anointment, the sources said the party is inclined to end the uncertainty and hinted that a formal decision could be expected at the AICC session on January 17.

There is a realisation in the party that it will be beneficial to project a leader - while the main opposition BJP already has a prime ministerial face, the recent Assembly elections too proved that going to polls with a leader can be helpful. Most of the Congress leaders are in favour of the party breaking from the practice of choosing its leader after the elections. The Congress, however, made it clear that Rahul will not replace Singh for the rest of the term.

While the Congress said the increased visibility of its vice-president in recent days, the PM's formal announcement and the announcement of the AICC session in mid-January was not scripted and argued the situation is still evolving, sources said the developments indicate a pattern. Hours after the PM's announcement, senior Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi dropped strong hints that an announcement was on the cards and said along with principles, political parties have to follow some "rituals".

The AICC session, sources said, could set the stage for the big announcement. "There will be huge pressure on the leadership from the delegates. Moreover, elections are just two months away. The argument will be that it is the appropriate time," a senior Congress leader said. The Mahila Congress, the party's women's wing, for instance, is planning to move an official resolution at the session demanding that Rahul is anointed as the PM candidate.

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