Forty eight hours after the Congress Working Committee (CWC) met and analysed the party’s débâcle in the Lok Sabha election, there was no clarity on whether Rahul Gandhi would continue as party president.
Sources told The Hindu that there could be another CWC meeting later this week if Mr. Gandhi insisted on stepping down.
Mr. Gandhi is learnt to have asked treasurer Ahmed Patel and general secretary K.C. Venugopal to look for his replacement when they met him on Monday.
Mr. Patel, however, denied these reports. “I had sought time before the CWC to meet the Congress president to discuss routine administrative work. The meeting today was in that context. All other speculation is incorrect and baseless,” he tweeted in response to reports that Mr. Gandhi was insisting on stepping down.
Sources, however, told The Hindu that Mr. Venugopal — the only other All India Congress Committee (AICC) office-bearer who met Mr. Gandhi — was locked in back-to-back meetings with senior leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, general secretaries and State in-charges, including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Rajeev Satav.
A close aide of Mr. Gandhi also met Mr. Venugopal.
There is, however, speculation that if Mr. Gandhi insists on stepping down as party chief, he could be asked to either head the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) or lead the Congress in the Lok Sabha.
The party, however, is three short of the numbers 55-member mark required to qualify officially for post of Leader of the Opposition.
Adding to the sense of disquiet within the Congress, several State chiefs including Assam’s Ripun Bora, Punjab’s Sunil Jhakhar and Jharkhand’s Ajoy Kumar have offered their resignations.
Congress communication chief, Randeep Surjewala, however, issued an official statement almost immediately, urging the media “not to fall for conjectures”.
“Various conjectures, speculations, insinuations, assumptions, gossip and rumour mongering in a section of the media is uncalled for and unwarranted,” Mr. Surjewala said in a statement.
“The CWC looked at the reverses in the Lok Sabha elections as an opportunity for radical changes and a complete organisational overhaul, for which it authorised the Congress president, Shri Rahul Gandhi. The Congress party expects everyone including the media to respect the sanctity of a closed door meeting of the CWC,” Mr. Surjewala added.
On Sunday, The Hindu had reported that though the CWC had unanimously rejected Mr. Gandhi’s resignation , one has not heard the last word on the issue.
Inside the CWC meeting last Saturday, Mr. Gandhi was firm on his quitting the party post and called his decision ‘non-negotiable’.
“He said he would continue to fight for the party’s ideology as an ordinary worker,” said a CWC member was privy to the proceedings. He also reportedly lashed out at senior Congress leaders who focussed more on campaigning for their sons and put them above party interests.
Apart from Mr. Gehlot’s son, who unsuccessfully contested from Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s son, Nakul, won from Chhindwara and former Finance Minister P. Chidamabaram’s son, Karti, won from Sivaganga.
Resorting to some plain-speaking in the CWC, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is learnt to have told members that the senior leadership of the party didn’t support her brother “who was left alone to fight a lonely battle” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.