IN WHAT was clearly a choreographed move, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday set the stage for the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as party president, possibly within this month, by “unanimously” asking him to take up the mantle. It also decided to convey this “strong sentiment” to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi who stayed away from the meeting.
It was for the first time that the CWC has made such an appeal. “His elevation is now a foregone conclusion. It should happen anytime, even before November 30. There is complete unanimity on this in the party,” a senior Congress leader, who was present in the CWC meeting, told The Indian Express.
Some Congress leaders did not rule out the possibility of Rahul’s elevation by November 19, when the AICC kickstarts Indira Gandhi’s birth centenary celebrations.
Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the CWC is “authorised” to appoint the party president according to its constitution and adhering to precedence in its 130-year history. “The CWC can meet again and decide even tomorrow,” said Surjewala, who heads the party’s communication department.
Asked about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s possible entry into active politics, Surjewala said, “We will cross the bridge when we reach there.”
Monday’s CWC meeting appeared to be mostly following a script, said sources. Speaking after Rahul and former prime minister Manmohan Singh had delivered their opening remarks, senior leader A K Antony pointed to the speculation surrounding a change of guard and argued that it was high time the vice-president was elevated, said sources.
Antony said the process had already been delayed and should not be any further, particularly to lead the fight against the BJP and the RSS, said sources. Antony’s line was endorsed by former PM Singh and other leaders, including P Chidambaram, Ambika Soni and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Sources said some members, including AICC general secretary Gurudas Kamat, wanted the CWC to immediately pass a resolution anointing Rahul as party chief. But another senior CWC member Karan Singh intervened and said the transition should be done in a “graceful and methodical” manner, said sources.
“It is other matter though that the removal of Sitaram Kesri and appointment of Sonia Gandhi as Congress president 18 hours ago was neither graceful nor methodical,” said a senior member who attended the meeting.
Sonia was absent from the meeting for unspecified reasons but party leaders said it could, perhaps, have been an intentional move. “The members could not have spoken their mind had she been there. It would also have given the impression that she wants her son to be elevated,” said a CWC member.
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According to Surjewala, Rahul said that “whatever the Congress party and CWC would finally decide, he was ready to take on any such challenge”.
Antony said that since it was the “first time” that the CWC has made such an appeal, he was sure that the Congress president would give “due care and attention” to the proposal and take “follow up action”.
“(The) members unanimously expressed their strong sentiment that respecting the wishes of crores of Congress workers and of well-wishers, Rahul Gandhi must take over presidentship of the Congress party. It is high time that the Congress mobilise all forces to fight against the anti-people and dictatorial policy of the Modi government…. and also the RSS, Sangh parivar and BJP’s policy of communal polarisation and destructing peace and social harmony in the country,” Antony told reporters later.
“The members feel that Rahul Gandhi must take the lead in this fight. He should take over the leadership for this fight. This is the unanimous sentiment expressed in today’s working committee meeting… It was the collective recommendation of the CWC,” he said.
Asked why the CWC did not decide to appoint Rahul as Congress president, Antony said there were procedural issues. “We will convey this sentiment, the unanimous view of the CWC to the Congress president who will finalise the follow-up action,” he said.
The CWC also decided to extend the timeline for completion of organisational elections by another year and convey the decision to the Election Commission as per norms. “Rahul Gandhi’s taking over and organisational elections, there is no connection. Organisational elections will take place in due course,” said Antony.