In a decision that will extend Sonia Gandhi’s tenure as party president and delay Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to the post, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) Tuesday decided to extend the deadline for the conclusion of internal elections by one year.
However, Sonia, in her concluding remarks at the CWC, is learnt to have said that extending the deadline does not necessarily mean the party will have to wait for one year to conduct internal polls. Sources said the party could start the process soon after the Bihar Assembly elections.
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Sources said the CWC sent out a message that once organisational elections get over, Sonia and most of the current office bearers will stage an exit, paving the way for Rahul, who has already started taking feedback from the old guard before he finalises his new team. They added that if things go according to plan, Rahul will take over as president in January or February 2016.
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“The extension of Sonia’s tenure is just a technical requirement. Rahul will take over once organisational elections get over. The CWC has made this clear,” a senior Congress leader said.
There is considerable restlessness among young leaders and a section of the old guard, which wants Rahul to take over the party as soon as possible, sources said.
Meanwhile, with the BJP taunting the Congress by asking if it does not consider Rahul fit to lead the party, the Congress put up a brave front.
“When will Rahul Gandhi become the Congress president, how he will become, whether he will become according to the present constitution or the new constitution — only time will tell. We are lucky that we are getting the leadership and guidance of two leaders — the mature Sonia Gandhi and the youthful Rahul Gandhi. It is only good for the party. There is division of work… Both are getting time for party work… It is an ideal situation,” Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
But within the party, some leaders said the episode once again created a perception that Rahul was not willing to lead from the front, and damaging months of hard work done by him.
Sonia was elected Congress president in 2010 for a five-year period and her tenure ends this year. According to the schedule issued by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in March, the elections for the post of Congress president were to be held between September 21-30.
A senior CWC member said after the meeting, “I don’t understand the hitch in Rahul taking over.” A state Congress president, too, said Rahul’s elevation “should have been done now”.
But during the three-hour meeting, none of the CWC members broached the topic. Sources said even Rahul did not speak during the meeting, which saw Sonia launch a scathing attack on the prime minister.
A senior Congress general secretary, meanwhile, said, “The internal elections have been pushed back, not abandoned. When elections will take place next year, I am certain Soniaji will not stand for the post of president, Rahul will. That will give his taking over legitimacy.”
Some of his critics in the party, however, said Rahul wanted to avoid taking over till the next round of Assembly elections was over. Congress faces a stiff electoral challenge in Kerala and Assam, where it is in power, while its prospects in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu appear grim. Rahul, some party leaders said, does not want to begin his stint as president on a gloomy note.
But those close to him rejected such suggestions, pointing out that crucial state elections are scheduled in 2017 and 2018 as well.
The key proposals:
1. Reverting to a three-year term for office-bearers from existing five years.
2. Bringing back the dual membership system.
3. Increasing reservation for women, SC, ST, OBC and minorities for posts in the party organisation — from 20 per cent to 50 per cent.
(With ENS inputs)