A member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Thursday said that reports of Nationalist Congress Party NCP chief Sharad Pawar taking over as the head of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is a ploy to break Opposition unity and divert attention from pressing issues such as the ongoing farmers’ strike.
Speculation that Mr. Pawar could be asked by non-Congress parties to take over as the UPA chairperson momentum after the NCP chief, in a recent interview, had questioned former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi's “consistency as well as leadership abilities”.
It also comes at a time when the Congress is gearing up for organisational elections to elect a new party president.
There has also been renewed activity by a section of group of 23 Congress leaders (G-23) who had written a letter to Ms. Gandhi in August to press for organizational revamp.
“To the best of my knowledge, Sonia ji continues to be the UPA chairperson and there is no move to replace her. Congress is a bigger party and naturally, president of the Congress will head the UPA,” Tariq Anwar, a member of the CWC, told The Hindu .
Mr. Anwar, a former founding member of the NCP and colleague of Mr Pawar, said “such stories are also planted to divert attention from issues like the on-going farmers' protests”.
However, talk of Mr. Pawar playing a bigger role in the opposition ranks could be linked to apprehension among some opposition parties as to who could replace Ms. Gandhi as the Congress chief.
Ms Gandhi will step down once the party’s the Central Election Authority (CEA) firms up a timeline for organisational elections and the next All India Congress Committee (AICC) session.
While the elections schedule may be ready as early as this month, the AICC session is unlikely before January or end-February.
Organisational elections and having elected members to the CWC were among the key demands of the Congress dissenters.
“If Rahul contests, then I don't think we would have a candidate but if there is someone else, then it is altogether a different scenario,” said a member of the G-23.
Among other things, the G-23 had also pitched for getting former Congress leaders, who now head regional parties, under one umbrella to take on the BJP.
“We have not heard anything about Mr. Pawar as the UPA chief,” said the leader quoted above.