Rahul Gandhi's message to Congressmen and women across the country is clear: In future elections youth will get preference in the party. The Congress general secretary has chosen Punjab as the role model state to introduce youth into the fray.
Seeking to bring in a more democratic procedure, Rahul first ensured that elections were held in the Punjab Youth Congress party last year. This is the first time that the president of a Youth Congress unit was elected democratically.
After the PYC poll, Rahul personally monitored the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha election from Punjab. He handpicked three candidates in their early 30s -- Ravneet Singh Bittu, the late chief minister Beant Singh's grandson and the first democratically-elected PYC president, from Anandpur Sahib; Sukhvinder Singh Danny, PYC vice-president, for Faridkot, and Vijay Inder Singla, former PYC president, for the Sangrur constituency.
Former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh's 41-year-old son Raninder Singh is also in the fray from Bhatinda. Although senior Congress leaders initially kicked up a fuss about the induction of the new candidates, they have now fallen in line.
The dissent from former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Battal's faction was perhaps the most vocal. Members of Bhattal's group say their only problem with the youth nominees is that the selection was made in consultation with Captain Singh, Bhattal's bitter adversary.
Vijay Inder Singla, the candidate from Sangrur, told rediff.com that no political risk is involved in the selection and the nominees have been chosen with great care.
So why has Rahul chosen Punjab as his political lab and given youth preference over experienced leaders like Ashwani Kumar and Ambika Soni?
Party sources say two factors prompted Rahul to chose Punjab for his experiment. Youth comprise almost 50 per cent of the vote in Punjab and this generation, it is felt, prefers younger candidates who can address their issues better.
Moreover, Anandpur Sahib, Faridkot and Sangrur have been dominated by party old-timers who Rahul wanted to phase out. The Congress expects to do very well in Punjab where an anti-incumbency vote against Parkash Singh Badal's Akali Dal government is expected.
None of Rahul's candidates are contesting from their home constituencies. Despite this, Congress sources believe the party could have won with any candidate from Anandpur Sahib, Faridkot and Sangrur.
Singla says the moment for youth has never been better in Punjab and Rahul's experiment will boost the Congress's chances. The youth factor, he adds, will ensure a Congress victory in all 13 seats in the state.