India’s Rahul Gandhi says no, again, to prime minister post

Reuters - As the scion of a dynasty stretching back to India's independence from Britain in 1947, India’s Congress party wants Rahul Gandhi to be prime minister if it wins the elections.

NEW DELHI — Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent of the country’s oldest and most powerful political dynasty, never misses an opportunity to say he is not interested in becoming India’s next prime minister.

But that is the only question his colleagues in the ruling Congress party and journalists seem to be asking him these days.

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So, on Tuesday, when a handful of lawmakers and journalists surrounded him inside Parliament for a chat, Gandhi said, according to Indian media reports, “Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question.”

The 42-year-old Gandhi added, “The prime minister’s post is not my priority. I believe in long-term politics.”

The last time a member of the Gandhi family was prime minister of India was in the 1980s. In the past nine years, the family has relied on the apolitical economist Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to lead the government.

National elections are scheduled to take place in May 2014. But since Gandhi’s elevation to the position of vice president of the Congress party in January, there has been fevered speculation about his future role.

The Congress-led coalition government, headed by Singh, is battling a crisis of credibility because of a slowing economy, rising prices and a slew of corruption scandals. The poor image has led to a desperate clamor among party members who believe that only the Gandhi family mystique will help them win the next elections.

Last month, when Congress’s Vijay Bahuguna, who is the chief minister of the northern state of Uttarakhand, demanded that Gandhi be named as the candidate for the top job in the next elections, he was snubbed.

“I don’t want to hear such things in future. . . . We need to focus on the organization,” he was quoted as saying.

On Tuesday, Gandhi also said that he wants to do away with the Congress’s high command culture,” referring to its top-heavy style of functioning, as members often genuflect to the Gandhi family unquestioningly.

In his speech in January, he pledged to dismantle the entrenched elitism of the 127-year-old party.

But Gandhi may be asking for too much.

The Web site for the NDTV 24X7 news channel said Tuesday: “Barely three hours later, Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi referred to Mr. Gandhi as ‘the high command’ of the Congress and said that while Mr. Gandhi may be prone to ‘sacrifice,’ the party workers want and desire Mr. Gandhi for prime minister.”

What Alvi described as Gandhi’s “sacrifice” was lampooned on Twitter.

“Wrong to ask me about the PM post, says Rahul Gandhi. True. He needs permission to play on the big playground from his mom,” @avkuvalekar tweeted.

“They r interested just in sams! RT @ndtv: Rahul Gandhi says not interested in Prime Minister’s post, party undeterred,” tweeted @abhishekroy.

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