Rahul gags 'become-PM' cry

New Delhi, Feb. 16: Rahul Gandhi today reacted angrily to a sycophantic appeal to him to become Prime Minister, warning party leaders not to raise the matter again.

"What is the problem with Dr Manmohan Singh? Does anybody here believe we don't have a good Prime Minister? I don't want to hear this again," Rahul said, after Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna entreated him to assume the prime ministerial mantle to resurrect the party before the 2014 general election.

Speaking at the two-day interaction the Congress vice-president held with PCC presidents and CLP leaders, Bahuguna said every party worker wanted to see him as Prime Minister and such a development would automatically lift party morale.

Rahul immediately intervened, telling Bahuguna to concentrate on strengthening the party in his state instead of giving unsolicited advice.

He then wondered who would look after the party if everyone wished to become a minister. "I am the party vice-president and I have a task to do. We all should focus on strengthening the party," he said in a rebuttal to the request that has become a ritual at almost every party platform.

A leader present at the meeting said: "He was so charged up that nobody dared to raise this topic again."

The party has formally stated on several occasions that Singh will remain Prime Minister till 2014 and the next course of action will be decided after the general election.

Some senior leaders and Sonia Gandhi aides have wanted Rahul to join the government as cabinet minister but he has chosen to strengthen the party. There is no clarity about the poll scenario at this stage and Rahul does not seem in a hurry to become the Congress's Prime Minister candidate for the 2014 election.

Rahul has high regard for Singh and would not wish to undermine his authority by declaring himself as his replacement in 2014. Although some leaders feel Rahul should be projected as Prime Minister candidate at least a few weeks before the general election, most leaders today appreciated his readiness to act tough with sycophants.

In his closing speech, Rahul asked state leaders to hold regular meetings at district and block levels and take responsibility for elections. He promised to create a mechanism for direct connect with PCC chiefs to plug the communication gap cited as a big problem by many leaders. He also promised to visit every state, beginning with Odisha next week, and to hold a review meeting after three months.

Bengal PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharjee gave an update about the "alarming situation" in his state. "The Bengal government shelters criminals, believes in culture of violence and tortures political opponents," he said.

When Rahul asked him about panchayat poll preparations, Bhattacharjee said the state leaders were working towards developing the Congress into a credible Opposition.

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