NEW DELHI: Uttar Pradesh was unable to provide the platform for a change of Congress President, but even a partial improvement at the hustings in Gujarat is expected to bring out the red carpet for Rahul Gandhi to replace his mother Sonia Gandhi as the party chief.

Rahul Gandhi who is drawing a good response in Gujarat, is relying almost entirely on a new team of zonal managers drawn from different states. The old guard, or more specifically the leaders seen to be close to Sonia Gandhi, are counting their days in power within the party with perhaps only four assured of continuity under the new leader.

Significantly, these four who were Ministers in the UPA government as well include P.Chidambaram who is currently said to have Rahul Gandhi’s ear after a short period on the periphery; A.K.Antony who is almost an insider with Rahul Gandhi sharing his mother's faith in the former Defence Minister; interestingly, Shashi Tharoor who came into his own during the Congress vice president’s well publicised US trip; and advocate Kapil Sibal who is said not to be a clear favourite but definitely important for the party in the courts.

Then there are of course the in-betweens who are trying hard to remain in the sights of Rahul Gandhi, a little worried at times that they just might become invisible too. This includes Anand Sharma who is deputy leader of the Congress party in the Rajya Sabha but not a hot favourite; Jairam Ramesh who is always sitting on the party see-saw with his fortunes fluctuating according to the day; Manish Tiwari who is a spokesperson but without a mike that functions as well as it did before; Sandeep Dikshit who is young enough to hope for better days when Rahul Gandhi comes to power; Prithviraj Chavan who is consistent in just being around; and of course Bhupinder Singh Hooda by virtue of no real competition from within the Congress party in Haryana. Sushil Kumar Shinde is also in this list being the one of two Dalit faces (other being Kharge) in the party at the national level.

The old guard was known to have a vested interest in ensuring that Sonia Gandhi did not walk out of the President's post easily, and while it has managed to stall the decision for four years there is growing realisation now that the game is almost over. Journalists share stories of how the stories ridiculing Rahul Gandhi emerge from sections within the Congress itself, and that he is well aware of this.

Some of those seen around Sonia Gandhi are already disappearing from view. The list is fast growing and includes at this stage, Digvijay Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi, Ambika Soni. Mohsina Kidwai, Kamal Nath, Vyalar Ravi, Salman Khursheed, Ahmad Patel. Ajit Jogi had left to float a new party. Ghulam Nabi Azad lost his position after the Uttar Pradesh debacle. Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sheila Dikshit were never really close to Sonia Gandhi, and barely have access to her son.

It is perhaps significant to note that the Congress party does not have recognisable national level leaders---and some would say not even state level--- from West Bengal (with Pranab Mukherjee certainly not looking for rehabilitation after his book); Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh to name just some of the major states. In Gujarat too Rahul Gandhi is currently trying to raise a state leadership, with the exit of Shankar Singh Vaghela being seen as a boon by those who are currently managing the state party and the election campaign. Friction remains, as does the jostling for tickets with the old guard looking to place its nominees in key constituencies.