New Delhi: In a day of dramatic developments, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi was appointed as the interim chief of the party on late Saturday night. Her appointment comes at the back of more than two months of uncertainty, which emerged after Rahul Gandhi resigned from the top post on 25 May.
Sonia Gandhi, who has been the longest-serving party president in her earlier stint, will take over the party's responsibility at a time when it is fresh from its second-worst defeat in the national elections and ahead of key state polls later this year. Her choice is significant not just because it points to the larger narrative within the party of not having a consensus over a non-Gandhi candidate, but also because soon after his resignation, Rahul Gandhi had conveyed to the top leadership that the choice of leader should be outside his family.
“The CWC unanimously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi should take over as interim president pending the election of regular president by the All India Congress Committee (AICC)," K.C. Venugopal, Congress' general secretary incharge of organisation, told reporters after the marathon meeting ended on late Saturday night.
He added that according to the constitution of the Congress, the CWC is allowed to appoint an interim chief until the AICC elects a new president. Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala spoke about how the CWC members suggested the 'time tested' leadership of Sonia Gandhi.
Behind the scenes, all the five region-based groups 'unanimously' recommended that Rahul Gandhi should continue as the party president. Rahul Gandhi had briefly joined the meeting for an hour to discuss the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir and was reportedly told about the CWC's view by some members. Following this, he left the meeting and Venugopal is known to have reiterated that Rahul Gandhi would not go back on his stand.
“A free-wheeling discussion was going on, and ultimately it was realised that Rahul Gandhi would not go back on his decision. Her (Sonia Gandhi's) name was suggested by a senior leader and a former union minister and everyone supported it," a senior leader of the CWC who attended the meeting said requesting anonymity.
“Some leaders in the second round of meeting also suggested the name of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra but consensus grew on Sonia Gandhi. Initially, Sonia Gandhi was reluctant but later she agreed," the leader added.
Rahul Gandhi, who resigned as Congress president in May, joined the second round of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Saturday night only to leave almost an hour later. He said that the discussion over chosing his successor was on even as he left the meeting.
The apex decision-making body of the Congress met on Saturday morning at the official headquarters, 24 Akbar Road, in the national capital. The day saw swift developments with both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi recusing themselves from the process of appointing a new party chief. This was preceded by the CWC dividing itself in five region-based groups, which included the names of both the Gandhis.
Earlier in the day, during the wider consultation of the five sub groups, most leaders recommended that Rahul Gandhi was the only choice as the party chief and that the senior leadership should convince him to stay on.
According to leaders who attended the meeting, some of the key reasons given for Gandhi to stay on was that ahead of key state polls the party should not engage in finding a new face. It had already faced a number of desertion, and more could leave in the absence of an established leadership like that of Gandhi and also that with the churning in the party, he could have a greater control in its reorganisation.
There were a few voices during the consultation, which even said that they would not work under anyone other than Rahul Gandhi. The CWC members earlier in the day 'unanimously' urged him to continue on the top post, but he had conveyed that he would not go back on his resignation.