All eyes on Rahul. But will he oblige?

Jaipur, Jan 18 (IANS) All eyes were on Congress' de facto number two Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to play a "bigger role" and give "new direction" to the party that began its three-day special session here to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses while firming up a strategy for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

While there is a popular demand within the Congress that Rahul Gandhi should lead the party in 2014 elections, the general secretary, who has said he is ready for a bigger role, is yet to spell out his position clearly even as there is talk that he would lead the party in the next general election.

For the record, he heads the party's coordination panel for the 2014 general elections.

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh, who works closely with Rahul Gandhi and has been demanding that the Nehru-Gandhi family scion should assume a bigger role in party, said the young leader should not be forced into anything.

"As far as Rahul is concerned, don't force him. Let him chalk out his own life, his own road map... He is already leading the group to make the 2014 election plan. He is leading the youth wing, the NSUI," Digvijaya Singh said.

The 42-year-old MP, who has been involved with key decisions in the past, including in cabinet formation without himself taking a place in it, ensured that one third of the 350 delegates at the 'chintan shivir' (brainstorming session) were from the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, the two frontal organisation he heads.

Out of 350 delegates, over 130 delegates are from the youth wings.

Former union minister Ambika Soni, who left the government a few months ago to work for the party, highlighted Gandhi's role and gave full credit to him.

"Credit should go Rahul Gandhi for allowing elected members of the YC and NSUI in such large numbers," Soni said before while inviting party chief Sonia Gandhi to address the gathering.

Noting the "party was more important than the government", Soni said Rahul Gandhi too has chosen to strengthen the organisation than join the government.

"Sonia Gandhi showed in 2004 that the party is more important than government...Rahul Gandhi has also chosen to strengthen party," said Soni adding "the party looked forward to new direction from him" at the meeting.

Rahul Gandhi has refused to accept many offers from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the past to join his government.

Senior leaders say he wants to focus on long-term goal to revive the party which is not in power in more than half the states.

Young Congress leaders like Minister of State for Home and Sports R P N Singh and Minister of State (independent charge) for Corporate Affairs Sachin Pilot reacted to the issue with caution.

"Let us wait till the meet is over," both Singh and Pilot told reporters separately.

(Amit Agnihotri can be contacted at amit.a@ians.in)

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