CWC meeting likely soon to extend Sonia’s tenure
The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, is expected to meet soon to take a call on extending the tenure of Sonia Gandhi, who completes one year as the Congress’s interim chief on August 10.
The extension is a technical requirement under the Congress’s constitution given that a regular president is yet to be elected, a Congress functionary said. It is also a prerequisite for the party to inform the Election Commission of its decision.
The process of electing a new president could not be initiated because of Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown enforced on March 25 to contain its spread, the functionary cited above said, requesting anonymity.
“Soon after her appointment, there were assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana in last year followed by polls in Jharkhand and Delhi. Then Covid-19 struck,” he added.
The CWC named Sonia Gandhi as the party’s interim chief on August 10 last year after Rahul Gandhi refused to take back his resignation as Congress president. Rahul Gandhi quit after the Congress’s rout in the April-May 2019 general elections in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became the first party to win a majority on its own since 1984.
The Congress managed to win just 52 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha against the BJP’s 303.
There has been a renewed pitch for Rahul Gandhi to take over as the party chief, but at least four Congress leaders said on condition of anonymity that he remains adamant on his decision and is unlikely to assume the reins of the organisation in the immediate future.
“Rahul Gandhi had raised certain important issues when he resigned last year. What has changed in the party between May last year and now? Not much,” said one of the four, a central leader who looks after the party’s affairs in a north Indian state. “No doubt, Congress leaders and workers want Rahul Gandhi back as the party chief and he is the only opposition leader in the country seen to be aggressively taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government but he does not appear to be keen to once again assume the reins at least for now,” he added.
The CWC will again make a last ditch attempt to persuade Rahul Gandhi, 50, and in case he refuses to relent, it will consider extending Sonia Gandhi’s term as the interim party president, said the party functionary cited in the first instance.
At a fractious CWC meeting on May 25 last year, Rahul Gandhi slammed party veterans for “placing the interests” of their sons above the party’s, said some leaders had lost election from their own strongholds and criticised a section of the so-called GenNext for hankering after posts of power.
Rahul Gandhi brought finality to his decision to step down as the party president on July 3 when he tweeted a four-page farewell note listing the reasons.
In the letter, he took a sharp dig at his party colleagues for the electoral humiliation the Congress suffered and referred to a lack of support for him, saying he had been completely alone in the fight against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s ideological mentor.
“I personally fought the Prime Minister, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being. I fought because I love India. And I fought to defend the ideals India was built upon. At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it,” he wrote.
In the CWC meeting on August 10 last year, Sonia Gandhi accepted entreaties to lead the party once again -- she had quit as Congress chief in December 2017 after almost two decades at the helm from March 14, 1998 to December 16, 2017 when Rahul Gandhi took over -- on the condition that she would stay as chief only until an election is held to choose a full-time president.
Sonia Gandhi, 73, had then said her returning as the party chief would again give a handle to the opponents to attack the Congress on grounds that the Gandhi family was unwilling to give up its hold over the party. She had also insisted that this point be included in the resolution.
The Congress constitution empowers the CWC to appoint a provisional president pending the election of a full-time chief by the All India Congress Committee, the party’s central unit comprising around 2,000 members from across the country.
“The Congress needs to identify a leader who can give it a direction and helps the party in regaining its political voice. Whether that leader will be Rahul Gandhi or anyone else is a decision best arrived at through a genuine democratic process within the party. But the leadership model needs to be a multi-centred one,” said political analyst Chandan Gowda, of Bengaluru’s Azim Premji University.