New Delhi, Jul 19 (IANS): Rahul Gandhi will be number two in the Congress after Sonia Gandhi, the party said Thursday, ending feverish speculation after the Nehru-Gandhi scion and general secretary declared that he was ready for a "more proactive role in the party and the government".
Rahul Gandhi said the decision had been taken and the timing was left to the leadership.
"I will play more proactive role in the party and the government. The decision has been taken, the timing is up to the leadership," Rahul Gandhi told NDTV after voting for presidential election in the parliament.
The remark evoked almost immediate confirmation about his future role from party media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi who said the young leader was set to play number two position in the party.
"In future, his role would be after Congress president. That is clear," Dwivedi said.
It also set off speculation that Rahul Gandhi, 42, could be projected as the party's prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
This is the first time that Rahul Gandhi has spoken about the possibility of joining the government or taking up a bigger role in the Congress as the party prepares for a string of state elections and the Lok Sabha elections.
Interestingly, the big announcement came on the day former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and till a few days ago the government and party's chief strategist, was contesting the presidential election - well on his way to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On Wednesday, Sonia Gandhi said it was up to her son to decide on taking up a bigger role.
There has been growing clamour in the Congress over the need for the young leader to take a bigger role. Law Minister Salman Khurshid had said earlier this month that the party was waiting for a new ideological direction from Rahul Gandhi and had only "seen cameos of his thought and ideas".
Welcoming Rahul Gandhi's statement, party leader Digvijay Singh told reporters: "I have been saying this for the past two years...Rahul should play a larger role all over the country."
He had said earlier that it was time for the young leader to go beyond his present responsibilities in Youth Congress and National Students Union of India.
Rahul Gandhi's remarks about a decision having been taken for him to play a more proactive role is likely to intensify speculation about the exact nature of his assignments and tasks.
There is also talk that he could be made member of the core committee where important decisions are taken concerning the government and the party. Pranab Mukherjee is no longer a member of the core committee and Rahul Gandhi could be his replacement.
Though Rahul Gandhi has not accepted invitations from the prime minister to join his ministry, some senior leaders have suggested that this should happen.
External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna went on record last month and stated that Rahul Gandhi should join the government to help solve problems faced by the country.
There is also the buzz that he made working president but a senior leader virtually ruled out the possibility, saying that Sonia Gandhi was its full-time president. However, speculation continues about his being appointed vice president.
Rahul Gandhi's announcement has coincided with the party leadership mulling major appointments.
The party also has to appoint a leader of Lok Sabha and a finance minister in place of Mukherjee, choose its candidate for the post of Rajya Sabha Deputy chairman and fill vacancies in the cabinet.
It is also looking at organisational changes in states and a revamp of the All India Congress Committee.
Party leaders hope that Rahul Gandhi's more active role would energise workers and give a boost to the government's image, battered by allegations of indecision, corruption and financial imprudence.
Congress leaders have defended Rahul Gandhi over party's performance in assembly polls in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, saying it was for the state leaders to translate the support he draws into votes.