A day after the Congress’s Rajasthan unit did so, the party’s Chhattisgarh and Gujarat PCCs Sunday joined the call for Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the party, even as the countdown has begun for the election process to pick its new president.
Briefing reporters after getting a resolution on this issue adopted by the state Congress unit, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel noted that Rahul had not ruled out the possibility of leading the party again.
“Media says this (that Rahul is not inclined to be the Congress president). But Rahulji has not said anything. So far, two states have adopted resolutions urging him to take over as the party president. If more states do so, then Rahulji should think again. I believe Rahulji will accept the demand, taking into account the sentiments of party workers,” Baghel said.
Hours later, the Congress’s Gujarat unit announced that at a meeting of the party’s state executive, a demand was raised for Rahul’s return as president. The demand was endorsed by around 490 members present, Gujarat Congress chief spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
The developments come at a time when Rahul is leading the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, the party’s largest mass outreach programme in many decades. Parallelly, the party machinery is gearing up for the Congress president’s election, for which an official notification will be released on September 22.
Over the months, efforts have been made to persuade Rahul to take over as the party chief, but the Wayanad MP has remained non-committal. In his latest statement, he said last week that his mind was made up and people would come to know when elections happen as to whether he would contest or not. While some saw it as conclusive proof that Rahul was not in the race, to others, it was conveniently vague.
In an interview to PTI Sunday, senior party leader P Chidambaram also seemed to suggest that all options were open. Seeking consensus for selection of the new party chief, he said Rahul will always have a “pre-eminent place” irrespective of whether he is the president or not. Asked specifically if Rahul will heed appeals to become the president, Chidambaram said: “Rahul Gandhi is the acknowledged leader of the rank and file of the party. They want him to be the president. So far, he has declined. He may change his mind.”
Four days ago, senior Congress leader and the general secretary in-charge of communications Jairam Ramesh had similarly batted for “consensus” in selecting the new AICC chief while also underlining the “prominence” of the Nehru-Gandhi family in organisational matters in any emerging situation.
Rahul had stepped down from the post of Congress president on July 3, 2019, after the party’s crushing defeat in the second consecutive general elections. Announcing his decision, he had said “accountability was critical for the future growth of our party”.
Since then, the party has remained sharply divided on the possibility of his return to the top post, with one section endorsing the idea, and the other saying the Gandhi family needed to step back to allow the party’s regeneration. Most recently, veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad quit the Congress, while launching the sharpest attack yet on Rahul for the predicament of the party.
With Rahul undecided, and the leadership unable to arrive on a replacement, an election had become inevitable for the party – for the first time since 2000. However, the spate of resolutions backing Rahul, driven by the family’s loyalists and current office-bearers at the national and state levels, indicate the Congress might be back where it started.
In a statement announcing its demand Sunday, the party’s Gujarat unit described Rahul as “the future of India and voice of the youth”. It added that the resolution seeking his return as president was backed by all the members of the executive “with a round of applause”.
In Chhattisgarh, Baghel said the resolution moved by him was seconded by state unit chief Mohan Markan, Assembly Speaker Charan Das Mahant, and ministers T S Singh Deo, Shivkumar Dahariya and Premsai Singh Tekam.
The other resolution passed by the two units authorised the Congress president to appoint the party’s state chief and AICC delegates, as decided earlier.
Congress Central Election Authority chairperson Madhusudan Mistry earlier said that resolutions passed by the state units supporting any particular leader as Congress chief would be informal in nature and have no direct bearing on the elections, which are to be held on October 17.
However, sections in the party, which has seen this exercise play out many times before, are understandably not convinced. One leader from the G-23 camp said this would vitiate and influence the election process.