Delhi: Indian National Congress former president at the time of resigning had said ‘No Gandhi’. But Indian National Congress has ‘returned to Gandhi’ again.
On Saturday, Sonia Gandhi has assumed presidency of Congress again — two years after she had relinquished the post for her son.
Sonia accepted the Congress Working Committee (CWC) proposal to take over as “interim president” after attempts to find a replacement for Rahul led to a stalemate and he himself refused to take back his resignation as party chief announced three months ago over the Lok Sabha election rout. Following the resignation, Rahul had, on a number of occasions, asserted that no Gandhi would take over as party president after him.
Saturday’s proposal, moved by Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram and Anand Sharma and endorsed by Manmohan Singh, to Sonia to return to the post she had relinquished for her son in 2017, was unexpected and sensational. She steered Congress from 1998 to 2017 and her quitting suggested it was her final adieu to the leadership position. Few expected her to take the helm, especially because of Rahul’s “no Gandhi” stand and BJP’s successful projection of Congress as a family party.
Sonia Gandhi’s return as Congress chief suggests the party’s failure to settle on someone from outside the Gandhi family as Rahul’s successor, proving once again that for the party, the “first family” remains the sole glue.
Sources said Sonia was extremely reluctant to accept the proposal and had to be persuaded with calls of helping the party out of the present situation. She was also told that there was no unanimity on any other name for the post.
The run-up to the selection had seen many leaders and functionaries, the most prominent one being Punjab CM, Amarinder Singh, pitching for the baton to be passed on to someone from the younger generation. However, the party managers, who are vested in the status quo, did not seem enthused by the idea of a generational change. The generational battle along “GenNext vs Old Guard” lines, snuffed out whatever possibility there was of some from outside the family getting the reins.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala justified the decision by citing the “difficult times country was passing through” and by underlining Sonia’s credentials as “the experienced and tested leader”.
As per CWC’s decision, Sonia would hold the post till the AICC elections are held to select a full-time president. But it may have to wait for the coming string of assembly elections to get over, Delhi being the last in February 2020. It could put Sonia in the top job for around a year, well beyond the tenure that “interim” indicates. A resolution adopted by the CWC was effusive in its praise for Rahul, and emphasised that he had politely declined to continue as Congress president despite the unanimity among the “ billions of workers” that he continued.
In the extraordinary exercise carried out by the CWC on Saturday to seek the views of state leaders including state presidents, legislature party leaders and MPs, virtually every regional leader pitched for Rahul to continue. There was extreme reluctance to name an alternative. The only other name which came up for discussion was that of another Gandhi, party general secretary Priyanka.
The CWC, with 54 members present, in the morning divided itself into five sub-groups to elicit views of states on who should succeed Rahul. Sonia and Rahul, who too were put in groups, recused themselves, saying they did not want their presence to influence the views of Congress members. The participants assembled at 8PM again to discuss reports of the 5 sub-groups. The feedback ruled out a non-Gandhi, with members of at least one sub-group warning of “disintegration” if the leadership passed on to “the names that are doing the rounds”.
Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar is said to have told the CWC sub-group that only Sonia could replace Rahul and threatened to sit at home if “every Tom, Dick and Harry” were appointed. Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa warned “some have left and others too would leave the party” if the organisation continued to be rudderless.
Amid continuing drama, Rahul rebuffed entreaties of CWC leaders to stay on, first made by in the morning meeting and then at its late-night session. The apex body late evening, chaired by former prime minister Manmohan Singh, suggested Sonia as Rahul’s interim successor.
Earlier in the day, the much-awaited CWC meeting started with senior leaders urging Rahul to continue to lead the Congress, citing “trying times” and “BJP’s onslaught on democracy” while also praising his “courage”.