India's Sonia Gandhi blocks son Rahul PM candidacy push
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul pay their respects at the Shantivana memorial to the first Indian premier Jawahar Lal Nehru in New Delhi, on November 14, 2013 - by Raveendran
There had been widespread expectations that Rahul would be formally declared as the party's choice for premier at a Congress meeting in the capital New Delhi on Friday.
But Congress spokesman Janardan Dwivedi said that Sonia Gandhi, who is the party's powerful president, had made clear her opposition to such a move at a committee meeting in which Rahul indicated he was prepared to take on the mantle.
Her intervention is almost guaranteed to extinguish Rahul's chances of being anointed prime ministerial candidate on Friday although he will still be the main face of the party in the election.
"All the members of the CWC (Congress Working Committee) wanted him to be announced as the PM candidate but the Congress president intervened," Dwivedi told reporters.
"She said: 'This is not the party's tradition (to announce its PM candidate before elections). Just because some party has declared the PM candidate, does not mean that Congress will do the same'."
There has been a growing push within Congress to name the 43-year-old Rahul as candidate for prime minister after the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formally declared Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its choice.
Since Modi's elevation, the Hindu nationalist BJP has stretched its lead in the polls over Congress and the expected nomination of Rahul this week was seen as a desperate bid by the ruling party to avert humiliation when the world's largest democracy votes in an election due by May.
Rahul is already number two in the Congress as deputy president to his mother and he is also chief strategist for the national elections.
Sonia Gandhi, who is the widow of the slain former premier Rajiv Gandhi, is seen as India's most powerful politician -- even more than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is standing down at the elections.
Dwivedi said that Rahul had told members of the committee that he was willing to fulfil any role that was bestowed on him by the party.
"Rahul Gandhi said that: 'I have said before also. I am a dedicated worker of party, whatever responsibility party gives me, I will carry it out'," said the spokesman.
The media-shy Rahul is often seen as a reluctant leader and his previous refusal to embrace the political spotlight has frustrated colleagues.
Although his father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers of India, he has previously likened power to "poison".
Senior Congress figures hope that Rahul, who is nearly 40 years younger than Singh and has not been tainted by the swirl of corruption that has dogged the present administration, can work some of the family's electoral magic when the country goes to vote.
But a survey last week showed that only 14 percent of voters believe Rahul Gandhi would make the best prime minister.
The survey for The Times of India found 58 percent of respondents want Modi to be the next prime minister while 25 percent opted for the anti-corruption champion Arvind Kejriwal.
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