Sonia Gandhi had told her party workers that she does not want to continue as president, which was an interim arrangement after her son Rahul quit last year. She had asked the party to look for a non-Gandhi chief. However, it was decided in the Congress Working Committee meeting that Sonia Gandhi will remain the Congress’ interim president, for now, the meeting concluded after 7 hours. During the meeting, it was also decided that the new Congress chief will be elected within the next six months.
Sonia Gandhi’s letter asking to be relieved as Congress president was read out at the start of a crucial meeting of the party’s Working Committee a day after a letter was written by 23 top leaders calling for “a full-time, visible leadership” emerged. The “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party has demoralised workers and weakened the party, said the letter signed by senior leaders like Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Prithviraj Chavan, Vivek Tankha and Anand Sharma. The letter reportedly stresses that the Gandhis will always be an integral part of “collective leadership”.
KC Venugopal began the meeting saying it was called to “discuss urgent matters” and read Sonia Gandhi’s letter asking the party to start the process of looking for her replacement. The letter, demanding “collective decision-making”, called into question the leadership of the Gandhis, who have led the Congress for much of its 134-year history. The CWC’s virtual meeting is set to begin with Sonia Gandhi delivering the opening address and announcing her decision to resign. Congress leaders say the “dissidents” who wrote the letter on August 7 – including former union ministers and prominent MPs – are likely to come under attack from the Gandhi loyalists, many of whom have either come out publicly in their support or have written to Sonia Gandhi pleading with her to continue leading the party.
The letter has split the Congress down the middle with leaders like Amarinder Singh, Bhupesh Baghel and Siddaramaiah coming out in support of the Gandhis. “Sonia Gandhi should continue as long as she wants; Rahul Gandhi should take over after her as he is fully competent,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said.
Many believe the letter was intended to thwart attempts to bring back Rahul Gandhi as party chief. Over the past few weeks, many Congress leaders have pitched for his return. Rahul Gandhi is firm on not returning as Congress president. He is keen to continue to work for the party and fight the BJP-led RSS, as Gandhi family loyalists took on the leaders who signed the letter. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also clear she will remain as a general secretary and not take on any bigger leadership role in the party, sources said.
This is the first time since 1999, when Sharad Pawar walked out over Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin, that the Congress has seen an organized revolt against the Nehru-Gandhi leadership. Sources say going by the Congress playbook, there may be a “unanimous resolution” reposing faith in Sonia Gandhi as chief.
With the Gandhis, however, appearing determined to step back, the meeting may see the Congress being forced to commit to the task of appointing an interim president and launching internal elections, which involves an electoral college. A team or committee is expected to be formed to find a way forward and guide the party in the process of organizational elections and “help bring internal democracy within”.