'Rahul fully competent to become PM'

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New Delhi, Apr 27: Even after a curt public warning by the Congress Party against 'sycophancy' and 'speculation'' the chorus seeking to project Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Ministerial candidate continues to reverberate in the 123-year-old party, pushing the high command in a bind.

The trend unwittingly brought embarrassment every time to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has one more year in his present term. The latest among the leaders to join the 'Rahul-for-PM' bandwagon was Digvijay Singh, one of the senior most leaders who had served as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh for long.

''Rahul is fully competent to occupy the post of Prime Minister'' said Singh, who is one of the AICC general secretaries, adding such an opinion should not be viewed as ''sycophancy.'' Seeking to highlight the statement of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi batting for Mr Gandhi, Mr Digvijay Singh said, ''If a seasoned leader sees talent in some person, it should not be viewed as sycophancy.''

On the renewed chorus in favour of Mr Gandhi, AICC spokesman Shakeel Ahmed told the sources that "the statement asking the party leaders to stop sycophancy has not been intended to run down any individual functionary. It was meant to stop a trend." He, however, admitted that "the view in the party seems to be that there is nothing intrinsically inappropriate in 'Rahul-for-PM' line, but that it was too early and had caused embarrassment to Prime Minister Singh.''

Though sycophancy is not new to the Congress party, a fresh debate on the subject has been kicked up in the party in the wake of a recent statement by senior Party leader and Union Minister Arjun Singh supporting the projection of Mr Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Ministerial candidate.

Going by Congress standards, the views expressed by Mr Arjun Singh can never be termed as sycophancy.

But the statement of Mr Arjun Singh had apparently brought embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It was more so because he is a member of the Council of Ministers headed by Mr Manmohan Singh.

The AICC's snub also coincided with the statement of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who did not see anything wrong in the idea of passing over the reins to the young MP from Amethi.

There are indications that the Congress party managers have been preparing the ground to put the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family into the Prime Ministerial orbit in the event of its victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. At the same time, it did not want to make it an issue of public debate at this juncture as it would give a political cudgel to the opposition BJP to beat the Congress with.

The BJP had been dubbing Dr Manmohan Singh as the 'weakest PM' with all powers being concentrated in the hands of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Any effort to project Mr Gandhi as the next Prime Minister at this point of time by senior leaders like Arjun Singh is feared to give more credence to the BJP allegation about the status of Mr Manmohan Singh, besides embarrassing him.

The reaction of the Congress Party to the renewed chorus by Mr Digvijay Singh seems to be mild.

But in the case of Mr Arjun Singh, the party reacted strongly, when the official spokesman had said, ''Ms Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi always kept away from any environment of sycophancy. We want to put an end to all speculation.'' In fact, Mr Arjun Singh was summoned by Ms Gandhi to her residence and reportedly asked to refrain from openly batting for Mr Gandhi at this point of time.

The Congress had repeatedly maintained that the 'shun sycophancy' statement was not targeted at Mr Arjun Singh. "It is a general statement...It should not be subscribed to any individual," Mr Shakeel Ahmed had said. But the timing of the statement was self-explanatory.

The Congress, however, seems to be happy over the support the candidature of Mr Gandhi had received for the post of PM from DMK chief M Karunanidhi and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.

The party has not so far reacted to the public statement issued by Mr Karunanidhi and Mr Pawar supporting Mr Gandhi's candidature.

More leaders are expected to join the chorus for making Rahul the next Prime Minister as the Lok Sabha elections draw closer.

UNI

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