The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest executive body, will start the formal process of finding a replacement for outgoing president Rahul Gandhi, but a final decision will take a few more days.
At a meeting of the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) chiefs, convened to discuss the political fallout of the Centre’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and split Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into union territories, Mr. Gandhi said the Congress position on J&K was reflected in the CWC resolution that called the decision “unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic”.
Mr. Gandhi made it clear that though regional parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Aam Aadmi Party backed the government on the J&K decision, those like the Trinamool walked out. Only the Congress stood for the truth of Article 370. He, however, acknowledged that individuals may have different opinions.
Against this backdrop on Article 370, senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and P. Chidambaram explained to the State Congress chiefs the historical and legal aspect of the Constitutional provisions.
The research department of the Congress has also prepared an 11-page document to counter the government’s charge that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru mishandled Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India.
To take forward the process of choosing the next party president, the PCCs have been called for a meeting on Saturday. PCC chiefs along with MPs will form small groups (five-six members) for consultations.
A senior leader quoted Mr. Gandhi as telling party colleagues at the meeting, “It will be done in three or four days.” His response came after several State leaders pointed out that the party workers were demoralised and were deserting the Congress after the Lok Sabha rout.
On Friday, Ajoy Kumar added to the sense of crisis as he resigned from the post of party president of Jharkhand — a State where elections are due in about three months. In his resignation letter, he blamed senior leaders of sabotaging party interests.
“Rahul ji told us that there is nothing to fear. In the past 15 years, he said he was not scared even by a bullet,” said a leader quoting the outgoing chief. “He also said that some leaders will leave the party but majority will fight.”
Mr. Gandhi told his party colleagues that though he would not hold the president’s post, he would continue to fight the government and the RSS.
With the CWC now set to meet after dithering over the leadership question since Mr. Gandhi’s decision, senior party leader Abhishek Singhvi took to Twitter to assert that the party could ill-afford any further delay. “On Saturday, a consensus builder party president of Congress must be selected. Slightest delay is not an option,” he tweeted.
For over two months now, the party has been unable to move ahead with a group of senior leaders who held a series of informal meetings failing to reach a consensus. Party veteran Janardan Dwivedi had questioned these informal discussions and urged Mr, Gandhi to constitute a panel of leaders who could act as a search committee.
While Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh suggested that a young leader, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, ought to take over the reins, others like Shashi Tharoor have mooted the appointment of an interim chief followed by fresh elections for the top post.
Public speculation on possible contenders for the president’s post included the names of Mukul Wasnik, Mallikarjun Kharge, Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia. As per the party’s constitution, the senior most general secretary is made the provisional Congress president before organisational elections are held.
“A presidium structure that signals collective and deliberative leadership with a blend of wisdom experience and youthful dynamism can reinvigorate the party,” former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar told The Hindu.
The leadership vacuum has been clearly visible in the past two-and-half months as the Congress hurtled from one crisis to another. The collapse of the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition government in Karnataka, the defection of 10 lawmakers in the Goa Assembly and the latest desertions by two Rajya Sabha members — Bhubaneswar Kalita and Sanjay Sinh — to join the ruling BJP, all reflect a party in serious strife.