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Thursday, September 24, 2020

CWC meeting: Sonia Gandhi to continue as interim Congress chief

In her opening remarks, Sonia Gandhi asked the CWC to begin the process of "transition" to relieve her from her duties, saying she had given a detailed reply on this to AICC general secretary K C Venugopal.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Updated: August 24, 2020 10:59:33 pm
In Congress circles it was understood that Rahul Gandhi would eventually return as president. The only question was when.

Following a marathon seven-hour meeting, the Congress Working Committee on Monday decided that Sonia Gandhi would remain party’s interim president for now. A new chief will be elected within the next 6 months. It was also decided that a committee would be set up to assist Sonia Gandhi to look into the issues raised in the letter by 23 leaders, who called for sweeping reforms withing the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi said she doesn’t hold anything against those who have written the letter. “Let’s move ahead,” Gandhi is learnt to have said.

In her opening remarks at the CWC meeting, Sonia Gandhi offered to quit from her post and asked the CWC to begin the process of “transition” to relieve her from her duties, saying she had given a detailed reply on the issue to AICC general secretary K C Venugopal. Sonia Gandhi was made the interim president last year after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the wake of the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

Congress Working Committee (CWC) Meeting Live Updates

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who spoke after Sonia Gandhi at the CWC meet, urged her to continue and was backed by former Defence Minister A K Antony. Both the Congress veterans criticised the letter that called for “full time and effective leadership” that is both “visible” and “active” in the field; elections to the CWC; and the urgent establishment of an “institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively” guide the party’s revival.

Announcing the resolution passed by the CWC, the party’s General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal later said at a press conference that the CWC unanimously requested Gandhi to continue to “lead the Congress until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened.”

The CWC also authorised her to effect necessary organisational changes to take on various challenges before the party. The party further said the CWC unanimously resolved to strengthen hands of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way, while it also made it clear no one would be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership.

Meanwhile, high drama unfolded during the meeting after Rahul Gandhi reportedly lashed out at the leaders who had written the letter and questioned its timing. Gandhi reportedly said the letter was written at a time when the party was battling a crisis in Rajasthan and Sonia Gandhi was unwell.

Senior leader Kapil Sibal, one of the signatories of the letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi, hit back at Rahul for his purported remark that signatories of the letter were working in “collusion with the BJP”, saying he had never made a statement in favour of BJP in last 30 years. Sibal later deleted his tweet, saying Rahul informed him “personally that he never said what was attributed to him”.

The Congress later clarified that Rahul Gandhi never made such remarks and warned against being misled by “false media discourse”.

Leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad also issued a clarification on Rahul’s remarks after he said would quit all posts if the charge was proven.

“Some Congress persons wrote yesterday that we are doing this at the behest of BJP. It is in that reference that I said that it is most unfortunate that some of our colleagues outside the CWC had gone to extent of saying that the letter was sent at the behest of BJP,” Azad said.

“In the meeting, I said those people who are outside the CWC who are making these allegations should prove it and I will resign if they prove it. Rahul Gandhi at no point said the letter was sent at the behest of BJP,” Azad said.

The letter, seeking rehaul of the organisation and questioning the way the party is being run, perhaps prompted Gandhi to signal her intention to step down, which also set off a well-coordinated chorus of support for her and son Rahul Gandhi in the form of statements from across state units led by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Editorial | Congress high command could make this moment more about itself, less about the party. Or it could listen to the voices within

The leaders, it is learned, had pointed out in the letter that the “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party had demoralised workers and weakened the party. Importantly, they are learned to have said that the CWC is not “effectively guiding” the party anymore in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government.

If Gandhi insists on stepping down, the CWC could ask former president Rahul Gandhi to step in but he had many times in the past expressed his reluctance to return to the top post. Rahul had resigned last year in the wake of the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections. He had since then not responded favorably to requests to take up the top job again.

Read | ‘Non-Gandhi Cong chiefs couldn’t restore lost ground’: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

If Rahul refuses again, the CWC could set in motion the process of internal elections to find a new president and request either Sonia or authorize the senior most general secretary to continue in the interim. Many of the signatories to the letter had told The Indian Express Monday that they never challenged Sonia’s leadership.

“Of course, we are aware of her invaluable role, her steering the party to the two victories of 2004 and 2009 and her and her family’s sacrifices for the party, there is absolutely nothing but respect for her. The issues we raise are related to the party and its revival,” one of them had said Monday.

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