New Delhi: The long awaited handover of leadership of the Congress party to its vice president Rahul Gandhi is all but official.
The party’s apex decision making body on Monday nominated him to the top post, but subject to the official endorsement of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was unable to attend the meeting since she was indisposed.
The transition is significant given that it comes months ahead of the crucial assembly elections to five states early next year. With campaigning already underway in some, including the key state of Uttar Pradesh, an analyst said the move may end up being ill-timed.
If and when he takes over, Rahul Gandhi would be the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the top post in India’s oldest political party.
The move is significant given that Rahul Gandhi took over as the second-in-command in January 2013. Sonia Gandhi, the party’s longest serving chief, has been unwell and there has been a growing chorus from within the party seeking Rahul Gandhi’s elevation.
In a rare instance on Monday, he chaired a key meeting of Congress Working Committee (CWC) leaders who expressed a “unanimous sentiment” that he should take over the top post. Rahul Gandhi replied in the affirmative to their proposal and said he was willing to take any responsibility conferred on him by the party.
“In today’s meeting, CWC members unanimously expressed their strong sentiment that respecting the wishes of crores of Congress workers and well-wishers, Rahul Gandhi must take over the presidentship of the Congress Party,” A K Antony, veteran party leader and former union minister, told reporters after the meeting.
Antony added that the senior leadership will convey these sentiments to Sonia Gandhi. According to a senior party leader, it was Antony who made the proposal in the CWC meeting; this was seconded by former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Randeep Surjewala, the party’s chief spokesperson, said Rahul Gandhi was willing to “more than take on that mantle and fulfil that responsibility”.
Meanwhile, the party has also postponed its internal polls by a year although Antony was at pains to clarify that this had nothing to do with Gandhi’s imminent elevation.
There is still no clarity on the exact date of transition. Going by party norms, Sonia Gandhi would call another CWC meeting in which the proposal will be officially considered. Party leaders are also looking forward to 19 November when the Congress is organising an event to mark the 100th birth anniversary of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.
Demands for Gandhi’s elevation have grown since the party’s drubbing in the 16th general elections in 2014. Party leaders say the delay may have been because Rahul Gandhi was reluctant and also because a section of the party leadership, particulary the old guard, believed Sonia Gandhi should stay at the helm.
Political analysts maintain the transition has been ill timed.
“The CWC’s decision expresses neither clarity nor confidence, both of which are the need of the hour. The message that goes out to the country is there is no definitive outlook in the party for the future. If the party was confident, this announcement would not have happened on a day when Sonia was absent and internal polls were being postponed for a year,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“If at all he is elevated in the days to come, the timing of it will not be right given that the polls are near. They should have either done it an year or so ahead of polls or after it got over. Right now, with the campaign in full swing, they are neither here nor there,” Rao added.