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Rahul ready for bigger role, to be No 2 in party

Widely seen as a possible future prime minister of India, Rahul Gandhi said in parliament house that a decision about his proactive role had been taken and the timing was left to the Congress leadership.

The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family told NDTV after voting for UPA presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee: "I will play a more proactive role in the party and the government. The decision has been taken. The timing is up to the leadership."

It is the first time the 42-year-old Gandhi has said he was ready to play a role in the government.

Congress media department chairman Janardan Dwivedi said Rahul Gandhi was set to play the number two position in the party.

"In future, his role would be after the Congress president. That is clear," Dwivedi said.

Gandhi's statement and Dwivedi's remarks set off speculation that Rahul Gandhi could be projected as the prime ministerial candidate in Lok Sabha elections only two years away.

Dwivedi later toned down his remarks.

"We will be very happy if Rahul Gandhi takes on some more responsibility. What responsibility (whether in the government or party) and when is up to the party leadership and Rahulji to decide," he said.

The announcement came on a day former finance minister Mukherjee, till a few days ago the government and party's chief strategist, was contesting the presidential election and 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.

Rahul Gandhi's remarks triggered a wave of statements from party leaders.

"We are very happy that he will be taking much more encompassing role," said Minister of State for Communications Sachin Pilot.

Corporate Affairs Minister M. Veerapa Moily said the party and government needed the "young, passionate and enthusiastic leader" to play a bigger role.

It was Moily who in 2008 - a year after Rahul Gandhi was named a Congress general secretary and chairperson of the Indian Youth Congress and National Students Union of India - suggested that Sonia Gandhi's son was suited to become the prime minister.

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said: "I have been saying this (that) Rahul should play a larger role all over the country."

He said a large section of country's population was young and "people were looking for new leadership".

There is talk that he could be made member of the Congress core committee. Mukherjee is no longer a member of the panel and Rahul Gandhi could be his replacement.

Though Rahul Gandhi has not accepted invitations from the prime minister to join his ministry, some Congress leaders want this to happen.

Party leaders hope that Rahul Gandhi's more active role would energize workers and boost the government's image, now 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.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid had said earlier this month that the party was waiting for a new ideological direction from Rahul Gandhi.

Born June 19, 1970, Rahul Gandhi -- educated in Delhi, Dehradun, the US and England -- was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 2004 from Amethi, a seat held then by his mother. He was re-elected in 2009.

Rahul Gandhi's increasing profile has been accompanied by the virtual eclipse of his more popular sister Priyanka, who for years was believed to be preparing to play a major role in the Congress. 

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