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Congress to elect new president in Aug-Sept

Rahul Gandhi, who quit in 2019 following his party’s dismal showing in the Lok Sabha polls -- it won 54 of the 543 seats in the house -- said he needed time to think about this, people present at the meeting said on condition of anonymity.
Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi greets during the party Working Committee meeting, at AICC office, in New Delhi on Saturday. Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, AK Antony, Ambika Soni and Ghulam Nabi Azad also present.(ANI)
Updated on Oct 17, 2021 12:15 AM IST
BySaubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Saturday decided to hold internal polls to elect the party’s next president between August 21 and September 30 next year, and most of its members asked former party president Rahul Gandhi to return to the post at a meeting bereft of any drama over the criticism of the party’s leadership by some senior Congress leaders.

Rahul Gandhi, who quit in 2019 following his party’s dismal showing in the Lok Sabha polls -- it won 54 of the 543 seats in the house -- said he needed time to think about this, people present at the meeting said on condition of anonymity.

The meeting, which comes soon after the crisis in Punjab, where chief minister and senior Congress leader Amarinder Singh was forced to resign (he subsequently said he would also leave the party), and high-profile defections of senior party leaders to the Trinamool Congress, was expected to discuss some of the issues, but HT learns that Singh’s name was not even mentioned at the meeting.

Instead, it was decided that interim party chief Sonia Gandhi would continue in that role till at least next August when the process to conduct organisational elections is expected to begin. That means the Congress will go into the next round of assembly elections, scheduled for early 2022, under the current team. The round includes elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

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Elections for the CWC and other bodies will be held during the AICC plenary session in September or October next year, general secretary KC Venugopal announced; polls for these bodies were a key demand of a group of 23 Congress leaders who first wrote to Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking changes in how the party was run.

If anyone thought the CWC meeting on Saturday would follow the script of the last few meetings -- muted criticism of the way the party was run by some of the leaders of the so-called G23, drowned by an overwhelming support of the Gandhis by their supporters -- they were wrong.

Instead all senior leaders including G23 members Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma called upon Rahul Gandhi to lead the party.

Former defence minister AK Antony made the first pitch for Rahul Gandhi: “Rahul should take over immediately, otherwise it would be tough for us.” His anointment as party president was required for “the future of the country”, he added.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot echoed the sentiment, saying there should not be any further delay in electing Rahul Gandhi as party president. Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi argued that the delay in the appointment “is not a small matter as we are losing out every day”.

Rahul Gandhi spoke for almost 40 minutes at the CWC meeting. He touched upon various subjects and attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He demanded more ideological commitment from Congress workers in the wake of the recent attrition from the party.

He recalled: “Channi cried when I rang him up (to appoint him as Punjab chief minister) and said he was not expecting this to happen. The RSS will never make a Dalit, a minority or a woman as chief minister or give them important positions. But the Congress is doing it.”

Rahul Gandhi heard out the views of leaders seeking his return, but said he needed time to take a call. He also spoke of what he saw as the bigger picture. “We are in a big fight against the BJP-RSS ideology. Our party has to be firm on ideology and we have be clear on what we stand for. We should never be afraid of what we stand for. We should not be afraid of (PM Narendra) Modi and RSS.”

Azad, who wrote to Sonia last month demanding a CWC meeting to discuss the Punjab and Goa issues (a senior Goa leader, a former CM, defected to the TMC), and the current political scenario, suggested that candidates for the upcoming elections be picked in advance. He also praised Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s intervention in Lakhimpur Kheri where eight people died in a violent incident after a car mowed down protesting farmers on October 3, and the farmers, in return, were accused of lynching some of the occupants.

Both Azad and Anand Sharma clarified that they have no issues in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. Sharma, a key member of the G23 , praised Sonia Gandhi and said the CWC had elected her as interim president and he was thankful for what she has done during these difficult times.

While Sharma maintained that the party should talk to leaders and engage them if they are trying to leave the party, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said: “We should continue with our public agitations and protests, and intensify the protests. Those who want to leave will leave, but we should not slacken (our efforts).”

Later, Venugopal announced the poll schedule. “Rahul Gandhi is a capable leader to lead the party. But there is no ambiguity about the decision-making process. Every single decision is taken by Sonia Gandhi,” he said.

There was no mention about Captain Amarinder Singh, who was removed as Punjab chief minister, party insiders said on condition of anonymity. General secretary Dinesh Gundu Rao complained that Prashant Kishor, an election strategist, is luring away Congress leaders in Goa.

As the first step for the organizational election, a membership enrolment drive will begin from November 1 and will continue till March. The membership drive, spread over five months, is significant as the party has lost considerable electoral space to the BJP and other parties in recent years.

Venugopal also said at a news briefing that general secretaries of all poll-bound states presented reports on preparations for the state assembly polls.

He announced that the election schedule, which includes enrolment of members for organisational polls on payment of 5 each, will start from November 1, 2021 and go on till March 31, 2022.

District Congress Committees shall publish preliminary list of members together with the list of eligible contestants for participation in the election. This list will be published before April 15, 2022 i.e. between April 1 and April 15.

Election of president and executives of primary committees and block committees, and election of block presidents, executive committees and one member of the PCC by block Congress committee will be held between April 16 and May 31, 2022.

The election of presidents, vice presidents, treasurers and executive committee of DCC will be held between June 1 and July 20 next year.

Venugopal also said that the election of PCC presidents, vice presidents, treasurers, PCC executives and AICC members by PCC general body will be held between July 21 and August 20, 2022.

The election of the Congress president will be held between August 21 and September 20, 2022, he said.

Venugopal also announced that the election of CWC members and other bodies by AICC members will take place at a plenary session, dates for which will be announced later, preferably in the month of September or October next year.

The Bharatiya Janata Party dubbed the CWC meeting as “parivar bachao working committee” and alleged that it offered no answers to the issues of the party’s internal rift and its leadership’s failures, and instead indulged in spreading lies.

BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia also criticised the CWC for not reacting to the murder of a Dalit man at the Singhu border, one of the sites for the farmers’ protests, and questioned if the opposition party stood with the “Talibani mindset” behind the killing. Anarchic elements are using farmers for their politics, he said.

With inputs from PTI

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