India's ruling Congress party has announced that its Vice President Rahul Gandhi will lead the poll campaign for the parliamentary elections, but he would not be party's prime ministerial candidate.
Congress, in power for the last decade, is struggling in opinion polls ahead of elections due by April-May, with a string of corruption scandals and a reputation for poor governance engulfing its administration.
"The Congress party president declared that the next election campaign will be led by Rahul Gandhi," senior party leader Janardan Dwidedi said on Thursday after meeting Sonia Gandhi, Rahul's mother and party head, and one of India's most powerful figures.
Sonia Gandhi is believed to have decided against making Rahul the prime ministerial candidate despite clamouring within the party for him to take on opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Narendra Modi.
On Friday, Rahul himself backed his mother's statement that it was up to the elected members of parliament to elect their prime minister if the party wins the next elections.
Addressing a Congress Working Committee meeting, he, however, said he was ready to take any responsibility given to him - a hint that he was not ruling himself out as the next prime minister.
But political observers give the Congress little chance of retaining power with dwindling popular support.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley criticised the Congress for its dependance on the Gandhi family - Rahul's grandfather and father were both prime ministers, while his mother heads the ruling party. "It is only in a personality and family-dominated set-up like the Congress that he [Rahul] can be nominated as the unquestioned supremo, he had said before Friday's meeting.
Once Congress announced that Rahul will not be named the PM-candidate, Jaitley said the party had avoided annointing him to avoid the embarassment of an electoral defeat.
It is only in a personality and family-dominated set-up like the Congress that he can be nominated as the unquestioned supremo
Gandhi has in recent months tried to style himself as a maverick fighting corruption. He has launched moves to clean up the 128-year-old Congress party, including asking for the right to name at least 100 of the party candidates to the 543-member parliament.
"Changes... will be substantial," Sachin Pilot, corporate affairs minister, said.
Critics say Gandhi depends on his family name for power, and has barely registered his presence in parliament despite being a member for the last decade.
"It is only in a personality and family-dominated set-up like the Congress that he can be nominated as the unquestioned supremo," said Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the BJP.
The BJP won three of the five state assembly elections in December last year and its leader Modi remains the clear front runner thanks to pledges to revive economic growth that under Congress fell to its slowest pace in a decade.