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Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019

Clock is ticking as Congress meeting to pick a new president continues

The party’s 54-member apex body had met earlier on Saturday to decide on a name but went along with Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion to make it a participatory exercise and get the opinions of party leaders from the states as well.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2019 22:15 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arrives to attend the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, in New Delhi, Saturday, August 10, 2019.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi arrives to attend the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, in New Delhi, Saturday, August 10, 2019.(PTI photo)
         

The Congress Working Committee is meeting in the national capital to decide on the next Congress president to replace Rahul Gandhi who announced his decision to step down from the party’s top post in May. This is the second time the party’s top decision-making panel is meeting on Saturday.

The party’s 54-member apex body had met earlier on Saturday to decide on a name but went along with Rahul Gandhi’s suggestion to make it a participatory exercise and get the opinions of party leaders from the states as well.

The CWC then formed five zonal groups to consult with state leaders to zero in on a party chief.

The new president is likely to be the first non-Gandhi to head the 134-year-old party since March 1998 when Sonia Gandhi took over as the Congress president and remained at the helm for over 19 years till December 2017 when she handed over the baton to Rahul Gandhi.

The decision of the 54-member apex body of the party taken in consultation with its state leadership will end the 77-day-long leadership crisis that erupted with Rahul Gandhi’s resignation on May 25, two days after the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections were announced.

Day-long consultations among party’s top national and state functionaries began with a meeting of 54 Congress Working Committee members (CWC) who renewed their request to Rahul Gandhi to withdraw his resignation. Rahul Gandhi, however, again shot down the request.

The CWC then decided to form five zonal groups to consult with state leaders to zero in on a party chief. Sonia Gandhi was named to interact with the leaders from eastern region of the country while Rahul Gandhi was requested to interact with the leaders from the west zone. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was made part of the group for the north, Manmohan Singh for the south and Ambika Soni for the northeast. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi however said they can’t be part of the consultation process. They left the party office soon after the CWC meet finished.

Reports that emerged of the deliberations held within the five groups suggested leaders were reluctant to be led by anyone else but Rahul Gandhi. Two Congress leaders that HT spoke to had confirmed that leaders from at least two zonal groups, (north and south) had demanded that Rahul Gandhi retracts his resignation.

The delay in selecting Rahul Gandhi’s successor has also impacted the party’s preparations for the assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand due in October this year.

The Congress suffered its second worst electoral defeat, winning just 52 seats in the 543 member Lok sabha, eight more than it did in 2014.

59-year-old Mukul Wasnik, among several other candidates, was widely tipped to take over from Rahul Gandhi. Congress insiders said that the fact that he is a Dalit, a loyalist, and is experienced in matters related to the organisation and the government, gave Wasnik an edge.