With Sonia Gandhi set to complete her one-year tenure as interim Congress president on August 10, and the party showing no signs of putting in place a mechanism to elect its next leader, some sections of the party have started demanding that Rahul Gandhi return to the post he gave up in May 2019, owning responsibility for the party’s rout in the general elections.
The demands came in three meetings: the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on June 23; at Sonia Gandhi’s deliberations with the party’s Lok Sabha members on July 11; and during her interaction with the party’s Rajya Sabha MPs on July 30.
To be sure, not everyone in the party has made the demand or supported it.
One Congress leader said on condition of anonymity that he sees it as the responsibility of Rahul Gandhi to assuage the concerns of both veterans and members of the young brigade because there is visible unease between the two groups over the leadership issue and their future in the party.
His reference is to the long-simmering conflict between the party’s old guard and its younger members — which came to fore most recently during Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with Rajya Sabha MPs.
While Sonia Gandhi is not keen to continue in the post, Rahul Gandhi has not shown any inclination to take up the responsibility. “But circumstances can change any time,” the leader added.
The demand has also come from outside the Congress. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar last week suggested that Rahul Gandhi should take up the Congress president’s post, start a conversation with party leaders and workers, and undertake a nationwide “yatra” to galvanise the Congress cadre and reconnect with the people who have moved away from the grand old party over the years.
Pawar’s views were echoed by senior Congress leaders and Rajya Sabha members Digvijaya Singh and Partap Singh Bajwa.
“I agree. He (Rahul Gandhi) is different and wants to do politics differently. We should allow him to do so but then we also would like him to be more active in Parliament and more accessible to people. As advised by Sharad Pawar he should travel around India. Yatras are important to connect,” Singh tweeted on Saturday.
Bajwa said Rahul Gandhi should first become the Congress president and then tour the country. “I request the Congress president to settle the leadership issue once and for all. The issue has to be tackled anyway otherwise we are ceding ground to the BJP every day.”
Bajwa said it was the “relentless campaign” carried out by Rahul Gandhi in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh that ensured the party’s victories in these states and even Gujarat, where he brought the Congress within the striking distance of ousting the BJP from power. One of the architect’s of the party’s Madhya Pradesh win, Jyotiraditya Scindia has left the party for the BJP, after he was marginalised in the state and the party’s central leadership chose not to intervene. Legislators allied with him resigned from the party too — causing the collapse of the Kamal Nath government. More recently, Sachin Pilot, credited with having played a significant role in the party’s win in Rajasthan, and lawmakers loyal to him have broken ranks with the party over differences with chief minister Ashok Gehlot, although they haven’t left the party. The development has left the Gehlot government with a wafer-thin majority.
Experts said the clamour for Gandhi’s ascendancy to President once again highlights the fact that the party does not want to take the tougher route of holding elections and finding a new leader from outside the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Hyderabad-based political analyst C Narasimha Rao said, “Many Congress leaders do not want internal elections as they are comfortable with the nomination process and hence push for the easy route. Also, the Gandhi family does not want to give up the control of the party though some argue that it is the only binding force.”