The decision, in what seemed to be a well-choreographed move, came after the Congress Working Committee, following a marathon discussion for close to 12 hours, failed to arrive at a consensus on picking a non-Gandhi successor to Rahul, who was adamant on quitting. He had resigned as chief in May after the party’s disastrous performance in the Lok Sabha polls.
Sonia was appointed interim president until organisational elections are held to pick a new chief but the party did not announce a timeline to hold such internal elections. The CWC did not discuss the issue, sources said. Her first challenge will be Assembly elections in Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Haryana due in November. Sonia had made way for Rahul as Congress president in December 2017 after helming the party for nearly two decades.
In a way, the old guard in the party won the day as the decision to bring back Sonia has silenced those demanding a
younger leader as Congress president. Sources said Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, too, declined to take over as Congress chief at the CWC meeting saying “there is no question”. Sources said when the CWC passed a resolution appointing Sonia interim president, she did not immediately accept the decision. She only said “suddenly you all have come with this…I was not expecting this..I will have to think about it”, according to a Congress leader.
“Happy to see Smt. Sonia Gandhi ji back in the saddle. It was the best decision in the current circumstances. Her experience and understanding will help guide @INCIndia. I wish her and the party all the best,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh tweeted. Singh was the first senior Congress leader and Chief Minister to have demanded that a young leader be appointed as the Congress president.
“This is the best under the circumstances because of the challenges,” CWC member Kumar Selja told The Indian Express. Sources said Selja, considered close to the Gandhi family, first proposed that Sonia take over the reins until a viable arrangement is put in place. “Given the circumstances, the appointment of Sonia as interim chief is the most appropriate decision,” said former Union minister K V Thomas.
“The CWC considered the views of PCC presidents, CLP leaders, AICC secretaries and Members of Parliament. The CWC unanimously resolved that Rahul Gandhi should continue as Congress president… However, Rahul Gandhi declined to withdraw his resignation. Consequently, the CWC unanimously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi to take over as interim president pending the election of a regular president by the AICC,” stated a resolution adopted by the CWC after the meeting.
The CWC also passed a resolution expressing appreciation and gratitude for the exceptional leadership provided by Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief. “Rahul Gandhi led the party with unbounded drive, fierce determination and dedication,” it said.
Sources said that five groups of CWC members, tasked with listening to the views of state Congress presidents, CLP leaders, AICC secretaries and MPs reported to the CWC, when it met for the second time at 8.30 pm, that the overwhelming view was that Rahul should continue. The second option, the reports of the group said, was Priyanka Gandhi. But she flatly refused to take over, sources said.
Most leaders told the CWC sub groups warned that the party may disintegrate. In fact, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jhakar told the CWC members that he cannot accept any other leader and would rather sit at home if any other leader is appointed. “The kind of names which are floating around…I cannot accept any of them as my leader,” he is learnt to have told the CWC.
His predecessor Partap Singh Bajwa, it is learnt, told the CWC that the party will face a major exodus if any other leader is appointed Congress president. He said Rahul is falling into a BJP trap by stepping down and most leaders would desert the party if a non-Gandhi is appointed.
Earlier, Mukul Wasnik and Mallikarjun Kharge had emerged frontrunners to lead the party when deliberations began at 11 AM. The CWC agreed to Rahul’s suggestion to listen to state Congress presidents, CLP leaders, AICC secretaries and MPs to pick the next party chief.
But the consultation process turned out be an exercise in futility – the CWC decided to “note down” and “record” the views of every single leader and most played safe. Sources said almost all suggested that Rahul should continue as Congress chief.
When the CWC reconvened again at 8.30 pm, Rahul arrived an hour late and while leaving told reporters that he had come to discuss the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
“I was called by the Working Committee just now because between the work they were doing to choose the next Congress president some reports have come that things in Jammu and Kashmir are going very wrong. There are reports of violence, there are reports of people dying in Jammu and Kashmir. So we stopped our deliberations on the Congress president issue and we had a presentation on what was going in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
“It is very very important that the Government of India and the Prime Minister make it very clear and transparent exactly what is happening in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. We are extremely concerned about reports that are coming and the Government needs to assuage the country and tell the country exactly what is happening and be transparent.”