While Modi was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's central poll campaign committee head in June, Gandhi was picked in November to head the Congress election coordination committee. (Agencies)
This happened two months before Gandhi was made the vice president, second only to his mother and party chief Sonia Gandhi. With Modi now the BJP candidate for the country's top executive job, it is clear that both Modi and Gandhi will lead the charge in the next general election due in 2014.
For all practical purposes, Gandhi has already plunged into election campaign. And so has Modi. The Congress downplayed Friday's BJP decision.
"We are not concerned, it is an internal matter of the BJP. We will go to the polls based on policies and programmes," Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told reporters.
She denied that the move would induce any pressure on the Congress to consider announcing Rahul Gandhi as the party's prime ministerial nominee. "The Congress tradition is that the elected MPs choose their leader who becomes the prime minister," she said.
Modi and Gandhi are contrasting personalities
While Modi, 62, has an advantage of winning three assembly polls and administrative experience since 2001, Gandhi, 42, has not held any position in the government since entering the Lok Sabha in 2004.
Also, while Modi had a humble start as a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak and gradually moved up the ranks in the BJP, Gandhi is viewed as one holding the present post largely due to his surname.
But experts said the move should not be seen as clash of personalities as the Congress has still not named its prime ministerial candidate.
"It seems the BJP had decided on Modi long back. But the problem for them would be to get allies," Nisar ul Haq, who teaches political science at Jamia Millia Islamia, said.
"Opposition to Modi from allies and low caste regional political players could well undermine his popularity," Pradeep Dutta, who teaches political science at Delhi University, said.
Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said: "Modi's projection as PM will help us."
While Modi was named the Bharatiya Janata Party's central poll campaign committee head in June, Gandhi was picked in November to head the Congress election coordination committee.