Rahul Gandhi has ruled out his return as Congress president, sources close to him have said as the party, struggling with an existential crisis and a perceived leadership vacuum, prepares to elect a new chief in the New Year.
Many leaders and workers have reportedly sought Rahul Gandhi’s return to the top post but sources close to him indicate there is no change in his stand since he quit last year, owning responsibility for the Congress’s defeat in the second general election in a row.
The 50-year-old, who took over as Congress president from mother Sonia Gandhi in 2017, is still firm that a non-Gandhi should head the party, say sources.
After he resigned last July, soon after the election results, party leaders tried to persuade him to change his mind for three months. A dramatic impasse, with Rahul Gandhi snubbing all moves to bring him back or refusing even to meet senior leaders, ended with a temporary solution.
Sonia Gandhi, who led the party for 19 years before handing charge to her son, was forced to return as interim Congress president.
But senior leaders complained this year about a leadership drift, and 23 of them signed off on a letter to Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes and an “active and present leadership”, especially after the party lost power in Madhya Pradesh following Jyotiraditya Scindia’s revolt and barely held on to Rajasthan.
As the Bihar election brought another humiliating defeat for the Congress, one of the letter writers, Kapil Sibal, declared that the party needed urgent course correction and “the time for introspection is over”. At the same time, Congress’s allies in Bihar raised questions about Rahul Gandhi’s listless campaign.
While Rahul Gandhi has refused to return as Congress president, he continues to be on the forefront on social media and other public platforms while taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
Sources say the party apparatus remains in his control and major decisions are taken with his approval.
The Congress Working Committee, the party’s top decision-making body, is expected to meet soon to finalise dates for the election of president and other members of the panel.
Sources say for a section of leaders, Rahul Gandhi is still “the natural choice” to lead the party but his reluctance throws the party into fresh turmoil over an alternative. Sonia Gandhi, 74, has made it clear she is only a placeholder. The Congress’s poor run in various state and local body elections across the country have only led to more questions for the Gandhi leadership.