The Congress will soon start the process of electing a new chief and “99.9 per cent” leaders want Rahul Gandhi to return as party president, its top spokesperson said today.
As part of the process, Sonia Gandhi will hold meetings with senior party leaders over the next 10 days, beginning tomorrow, said Randeep Surjewala.
The Gandhis will also meet the 23 “dissenters” who wrote a letter in August calling for sweeping organizational changes to arrest a “leadership drift”.
“The party will soon start the procedure to elect a new party president. An electoral college of Congress, AICC (All India Congress Committee) members, Congress workers and members will choose who’s best suited,” Mr Surjewala said.
He added: “99.9% of people including me want Rahul Gandhi to be elected as party president.” The final decision is his.
Rahul Gandhi, who took over as Congress president from Sonia Gandhi in 2017, quit last year after the party’s national election debacle, its second since it lost power in 2014.
Rahul Gandhi’s resignation played out in dramatic scenes at the Congress as leader after leader tried to persuade the 50-year-old to change his mind but failed. After weeks of limbo, Sonia Gandhi – who headed the Congress for 19 years — agreed to return as interim chief.
Rahul Gandhi, in a long resignation letter, asserted that a non-Gandhi should head the 135-year-old organization that has mostly been run by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Sources say Rahul Gandhi has all but ruled out his return as Congress president.
Electing a non-Gandhi raises the prospect of an ugly leadership tussle erupting in the Congress; despite factions and infighting, deference to the Gandhis has always been a unifying factor for the organisation.
Though many leaders and workers have reportedly sought Rahul Gandhi’s return to the top post, sources close to him indicate there is no change in his stand.
However, Rahul Gandhi still takes all the decisions and is the party’s face in attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
The Congress’s losing streak has continued since the national election defeat. It has since lost Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to rebellion and is clinging to Rajasthan against constant threats of revolt. The Congress also finished as the worst performer in the Bihar election and has seen its votes dipping further in local body polls in states like Kerala and Rajasthan.
Rahul Gandhi has been criticized by some allies, and senior leaders, without taking names, have called for an “active and visible leadership”.
But without him in the equation, the party faces a difficult decision on its next chief. Sources say the party apparatus remains in his control and major decisions are taken with his approval.
For a section of leaders, say sources, Rahul Gandhi is still “the natural choice” to lead the party. Sonia Gandhi, 74, has made it clear she is only a placeholder.