As the Congress gets ready to announce its final schedule to elect a new party president by September 21, incumbent president Sonia Gandhi met Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Tuesday and is understood to have asked him to take over.
With Mr. Gandhi making it clear to his colleagues that he isn’t ready to take back the reins of the party and there being concerns over Ms. Gandhi’s health and age, the party could now be looking at a non-Gandhi at the helm of affairs.
Mr. Gehlot, however, is said to be uncomfortable with the idea and reiterated his earlier stance that former party chief Rahul Gandhi is the “unanimous” choice.
“I have been saying this repeatedly that Congress will revive only if Rahul Gandhi ji takes over. Without him, people will be disappointed and if people sit at home, then the party will be weak. Ultimately, Rahul Gandhi ji has to take over by respecting the sentiments expressed by everyone that he should lead,” Mr. Gehlot told reporters at the Delhi airport while heading to Ahmedabad after meeting Ms. Gandhi.
“We will continue to put pressure and convince him to take over as the party chief,” he added.
Senior leader and Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Digvijaya Singh admitted that if Mr. Gandhi is “adamant” not to become the party chief, then “none can be forced”.
Hours after the meeting, the Congress announced that Ms. Gandhi, accompanied by her children, Rahul and Priyanka, would be going abroad for her medical check-up and to visit her ailing mother.
The timing of the visit is significant as it comes just before the presidential poll schedule is announced.
Amid this sense of uncertainty over leadership, even as Mr. Gandhi is set to lead a nearly five-month-long Bharat Jodo Yatra from September 7, Congress general secretary for communication, Jairam Ramesh, said that the party would try to stick to the schedule earlier announced by the CWC.
Mr. Ramesh also said Mr. Gandhi would address the Mehangai Par Halla Bol rally on September 4 in Delhi.
“In the next few days, I hope that the schedule or the dates to file nominations, scrutiny, withdrawal of nominations will come out. Broadly, the CWC had said that this process will start on August 20 and end by September 21. The exact dates are expected to be announced soon,” Mr. Ramesh said when asked about the presidential election.
Gandhis vs G-23
The leadership question has plagued the Congress ever since Mr. Gandhi resigned from the post in May 2019, taking up moral responsibility for the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.
Though the party ‘unanimously’ chose his mother to lead the party, the Gandhis faced an ‘unprecedented revolt’ a year later, in August 2020, when senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Shashi Tharoor wrote to Ms. Gandhi to push for internal reforms after a series of losses in Assembly elections.
Together known as G-23, this ginger group, in their letter to Ms. Gandhi, demanded collective leadership and a “full time, visible party president”.
After a disastrous performance in the Assembly elections in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, all the three members of the Gandhi family had offered to step aside but the CWC rejected their offer.
However, with the Gandhis now reluctant to continue in their leadership roles, the party will either have to find a consensus candidate or prepare for a contest. In case of a contest, the emergence of G-23 will certainly add a new dimension to the leadership tussle.