Congress president selection: Sonia, Rahul pull out of consultation process citing conflict of interest; CWC may pick new name by 9 pm

  • The highest decision-making authority of the Congress party met on Saturday to deliberate over the next president of the party as outgoing chief Rahul Gandhi refused to take back his resignation even after the Congress Working Committee (CWC) leaders appealed for him to continue to 'guide' the party

  • The CWC decided to consult party leaders from across the country and the leaders assigned themselves to five groups for different regions — northeast, east, north, west, and south

  • Rahul and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who joined the meeting initially, left before the consultation process began, reportedly to avoid a conflict of interest

Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making authority of the Congress party met on Saturday to deliberate over the next president of the party as outgoing chief Rahul Gandhi refused to take back his resignation for the umpteenth time.

Rahul, who had resigned on 25 May as Congress President, owning responsibility for the party's poll debacle, has been urged by various Congress leaders, CWC and workers of the party to take back his resignation multiple times. Even Saturday's meeting, which was supposed to be a brainstorming session to come up with possible candidates to lead the party, started with the CWC urging Rahul to continue to “guide” the party.

Meanwhile, the decision on Rahul's successor remains pending, and the CWC will meet again later today to try and come to a consensus. Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, said that a final name can be expected by 9 pm on Saturday.

The CWC began deliberations through a consultative process, which for the first time involves all state unit chiefs and legislature party leaders after Rahul's suggestion.

The CWC decided to consult party leaders from across the country and the leaders assigned themselves to five groups for different regions — northeast, east, north, west, and south. Rahul and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who joined the meeting initially, left before the consultation process began, reportedly to avoid a conflict of interest. They also left in order to prevent the opinions of party leaders from being influenced in any manner.

Rahul, who resigned from the party’s top post two months ago to take responsibility for the loss in the Lok Sabha election held in May, insisted in his resignation letter that his successor must not be from the Gandhi family, and also that it wouldn’t be right for him to be part of the selection process.

The party has been in a disarray since Rahul’s resignation, with several leaders like Shashi Tharoor saying that the party was "lost" without a leader. PTI quoted sources as saying that most leaders rooted for Rahul to continue or Priyanka to be made the party president, signalling a deep divide in the party over who could lead it in "trying times". The delay in selecting the new party chief, the report said, is rooted in the fact that there is lack of consensus on the name of a non-Gandhi president.

 Congress president selection: Sonia, Rahul pull out of consultation process citing conflict of interest; CWC may pick new name by 9 pm

Congress Working Committee meeting on Saturday. Debobhrat Ghose

Among others who attended the meeting at the All India Congress Committee headquarters on Saturday were former prime minister Manmohan Singh, party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and P Chidambaram.

Significantly, besides CWC members, several state unit chiefs of the party, including Congress' Rajasthan president Sachin Pilot and Punjab head Sunil Jakhar, as well as some other office bearers were present at the meeting.

Chief ministers of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Puducherry Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Baghel, V Narayansamy respectively were also part of the consultation process. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said several leaders who could not make it to New Delhi have been consulted over the phone. The five groups will place their final report before the CWC at 8 pm.

All the CWC members have been assigned the task of holding consultations with state unit chiefs, legislative party leaders, and heads of frontal organisations across the country. They will hold these consultations in groups.

While the CWC group for northeast region will be led by Arun Yadav, it will include top party leaders like Ambika Soni and Ahmed Patel. The group for eastern region will be led by Sushmita Dev and will include Sonia and Venugopal.

The northern region group will be led by Rajni Patil and will include Priyanka and Chidambaram. The western region group will be led by Gaurav Gogoi and will have Rahul, Kharge, Azad, Antony and Motilal Vora. The group for southern region will be headed by Rajiv Satav and will include Manmohan, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik as its members.

The top Congress leadership held a meeting on Friday with its state unit chiefs, leaders of its state legislature parties, general secretaries and in-charges, where they were told by Rahul that the new party chief will be appointed within the next few days after wider consultations, PTI reported.

The meeting on Friday was held at the party's Gurdwara Raqab Ganj Road "war room" to discuss the government's decision to abrogate the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution in Jammu and Kashmir and divide the state into two Union Territories.

The meeting comes after several senior party leaders such as Amarinder Singh, Karan Singh and Tharoor voiced concerns over lack of clarity on the leadership issue.

Senior Congress leaders also met Sonia at her residence in the national capital on Friday. Patel, Antony and Venugopal reportedly discussed with Sonia the certain of potential candidates, one of whom could be made the interim president of the party.

The names of senior Congress leaders Wasnik, Kharge, as well as younger leaders Scindia and Pilot are doing the rounds for the top post. Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora earlier this week batted for either Scindia or Pilot to succeed Rahul.

A number of party members have expressed their opinion in public, saying the delay in selecting the new Congress chief is harming the party. Tharoor, who tweeted on Saturday saying that the new chief should be a person who can energise the party's organisation and inspire the voters, asserting that the Congress cannot afford "business as usual", had last week, urged the CWC to appoint an interim president immediately and then hold polls for the party chief's post as a leader elected by workers will be empowered and have more credibility.

Even though Rahul had ruled out the possibility of a family member succeeding him, several leaders such as Amarinder and Tharoor have voiced support for Priyanka for throwing her hat in the ring.

The party has also been grappling with a series of desertions by leaders from various states, including Karnataka and Maharashtra, the latest being that of ex-Congress Rajya Sabha chief whip Bhubaneswar Kalita and MP Sanjay Singh.

Several leaders cited indecision and confusion within the rank and file of the party as a reason to quit. The party is hoping to resolve the leadership issue and move forward quickly with Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana coming up.

Updated Date: Aug 10, 2019 16:53:02 IST