Re-elected chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) on Saturday, Sonia Gandhi endorsed Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, saying he had fought “valiantly” in the elections.
Amid continuing uncertainty over whether he would stick to quitting as the Congress president or head the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Rahul asked MPs to brace for a bigger battle, saying they have to fight against “every single institution”, like during the British period. Promising that the Congress’s 52 MPs would fight the BJP tooth and nail, he urged them to be more aggressive. “I have no doubt the Congress is going to rejuvenate.”
The Congress said Sonia, who has now been heading the CPP for two decades, would decide whether Rahul would be the party leader in the Lok Sabha, as is the tradition.
In her speech, Sonia called for introspection to find out what went wrong, but praised Rahul’s leadership and “his valiant and relentless campaign”. “As Congress president, he has given his all and toiled night and day for the Congress party. He demonstrated his fearless leadership, by taking the Modi government head on… He has rejuvenated the Congress organisation in many states, and most recently led us to victory in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. As Congress president, he earned the respect and love of every worker and crores of voters… Emotional messages are coming from all corners, vindicating his leadership. We all express our gratitude to him for his sincerity of purpose, his relentless effort, his hard work and leadership,” she said.
Several MPs, individually and in groups, walked up to Rahul at an informal gathering held at Sonia’s 10 Janpath residence shortly after the CPP meeting, and urged him to continue as party chief. “I heard you,” Rahul told them cryptically, without indicating his mind. Sources in the party said there is little chance of Rahul continuing as president.
At the CPP meeting, which lasted a little over half an hour, former prime minister Manmohan Singh proposed Sonia’s name for CPP chairperson. He was seconded by Kerala MP K Muraleedharan and Chhattisgarh’s Jyotsna Mahant.
Opinion | Advice for the Congress
In her speech later, Sonia told the MPs, “Each one of you has fought one of the hardest elections of our career… with all odds stacked against us — unlimited resources, ability to manipulate public opinion and the spread of mischievous propaganda.”
She urged them not to let their guard down, to play the role of an effective opposition and with their numbers in the Rajya Sabha likely to be challenged, to ensure better coordination with like-minded parties. She also said the party will play a constructive role in supporting the government in reform measures but will oppose it for its “divisive and regressive actions”. “Progress is currently being measured through manufactured data. Progress must be measured with truth. We will continue to fight for truth and transparency.”
Rahul said the party will relentlessly fight against the BJP, without ceding an inch. He also told the MPs they had fought and won “not against a political party but against every single institution in this country”. “There is not one institution that did not try to stop you from coming into the Lok Sabha. And you fought every single one and you forced your way into the Lok Sabha. And that is something you should be extremely proud of,” he said.
In Pics | Sonia Gandhi re-elected as leader of CPP
The battle was not over, he said. “There is no institution that is going to support you in this country, not one… It is like during the British period… yet we fought and won, and we are going to do it again… It does not matter who is standing against these 52 members. These 52 members are going to fight the BJP every single inch… and that applies to members from the Rajya Sabha as well.”
He added that “the people who are opposing us in Parliament House, they use hatred”. “Hatred, cowardice and anger are fighting against you. Lack of confidence, lack of self-belief is fighting against you… There is only one way to fight hatred and anger. And that is the love and affection and compassion of the Congress party,” he said.
Rahul also told the MPs that they would have to be more aggressive. “You are going to shout a little more than usual… Last time, if the Speaker used to give us five minutes, this time it may be two minutes, but in those two minutes, we will put forth what the Congress party believes. We will put forth our defence of the Constitution.”
He tweeted later, “The Congress Party may have just 52 Lok Sabha members, but we will work together like a pride of brave hearted lions to protect our Constitution & Institutions & to fearlessly do our duty as the leading Opposition party. The BJP will have no walkover in Parliament.”
To questions on Rahul’s resignation decision, Surjewala said, “Rahul Gandhi is the president of the Congress. And there are no two opinions or doubts on the issue… The Congress Working Committee had authorised Rahul Gandhi to do a complete overhaul of the organisation and to do so expeditiously… I would request all… to wait for a while.”
Surjewala also scotched speculation that the Congress will claim the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. “Since we are two short of the number (54), we cannot have officially a Leader of the Opposition. However, the onus and responsibility also lies at the doorstep of the government as to whether they want to designate a party as the principal opposition or not… We will not stake a claim to the post of Leader of the Opposition till we have the strength of 54.”
Nakul Nath absent
Two Congress MPs were absent at the CPP meeting, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Nakul Nath. The absence of Nath, the Congress’s sole Lok Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, was conspicuous since, at a Congress Working Committee meeting after the results, Rahul had berated his father Chief Minister Kamal Nath for mounting pressure to secure a seat for his son.