Jaipur: In a clear message of the party's generational shift with 70 percent of voters below the age of 35, the Congress Saturday named Rahul Gandhi, 42, as vice president in the hope of reaping electoral dividends in the 2014 general elections.
However, the Congress for the time being. refrained from projecting Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, ignoring the huge chorus from the party. Party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: "Whether Rahul will lead the party in 2014 general elections will be decided later."
Rahul Gandhi heads the party's coordination panel for the 2014 polls.
The new post of vice president was re-created especially for Rahul Gandhi. The last vice president was Arjun Singh when Rahul's father Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister and party chief.
After the Congress Working Committee (CWC) passed a resolution unanimously elevating him as vice president, Rahul Gandhi expressed his gratitude to the leaders and thanked them. "I am confident we can transform the Congress party," he said.
Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh termed the move a "game changer" and said Rahul Gandhi is the party's face for 2014.
Highways Minister C.P. Joshi hailed the move as representing "new leadership for the new India", while Youth Congress chief Rajeev Satav said it was a "historic day and would bring joy to the young friends of the party".
"This will be remembered as the real Jaipur Declaration much over the formal document to be adopted by the All India Congress Committee on Jan 20," quipped another minister.
Much before Dwivedi announced the CWC decision, hundreds of elated Youth Congress members started celebrations outside the Birla auditorium, venue of the "Chintan Shivir" and also outside 10 Janpath, the residence of party chief Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi.
Party insiders said Rahul became the youngest vice president after Jitendra Prasada, who got the position at 50 plus age.
Prasada's son Jitin is Minister of State for Human Resource Development and a member of Rahul's team.
"He will try and live up to the expectations of a new India," said Jitin Prasada.
Joshi said Rahul has already democratised the party' youth wings ending a culture of patronage.
The new leader will make his own team now, he said.
Party insiders said this would mean more younger leaders will get important roles in the organizational reshuffle, which is likely to follow soon marking the generational shift.
In the last cabinet reshuffle Oct 28, 2012, Rahul's influence was clear when he suggested for promotion many younger leaders, including Prasada, Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari.
A pointer to Rahul's elevation as official number two came when party leaders and ministers competed with each other in demanding a bigger role for him at the introspection meet.
The largest ever presence of over 130 Youth Congress and NSUI members out of the 350 delegates at the strategy session was also at his behest.
The decision approved by the CWC, the party's highest decision making body, makes him officially the number two in the party after his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
"With his appointment as vice president of the Congress party today, Rahul Gandhi has been elevated to number two position in the party," Dwivedi told reporters, amid scenes of wild jubilation by Congress workers and supporters.
"The decision will greatly strengthen the party and the hands of the Congress president."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was among the first to offer Rahul Gandhi a bouquet. Thereafter, a host of leaders lined up to offer him bouquets and garland him.
As soon as the announcement was made, supporters cheered and danced to drum beats, waving posters of Rahul Gandhi. The city sky was lit up with sparkling pyrotechnic fireworks.
Asked whether Rahul Gandhi would be pitted against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, R.P.N. Singh said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had not as yet decided on its prime ministerial candidate. Modi is being touted as the BJP's frontrunner for the top post.
"When he is the face of the Congress party, when we come back to power in UPA-III we will support him (as PM)."
Party spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said Rahul Gandhi will be the "chief campaigner" for the elections, but the "high command" will take a final decision on his prime ministerial candidature.
The BJP termed the decision a "mere eyewash".
BJP spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: "After hearing the announcement, I felt very amazed that a member of the same family is getting a post in the same party..It is something hilarious."
The Samajwadi Party's Ram Lakhan Yadav said Rahul's elevation was an internal organizational matter of the Congress. "But at the same time the decision to appoint him as vice president is more of a formality.. people know that most major decisions of Congress had Rahul's stamp of approval."