The Congress Working Committee (CWC) will meet on Saturday (August 10) evening, the second time in the day, during which it is likely to take a final call on a new party president, after Rahul Gandhi rejected its unanimous appeal to reconsider his May 25 resignation.
The party’s top decision-making body will reconvene at 8 p.m. to discuss reports of five groups, formed earlier in the day, and scrutinize the names of the potential successor to Rahul Gandhi.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi recused themselves from the process saying that they cannot be part of the consultations as they have been Congress presidents in the past and would not like the opinion of the party leaders to be influenced in any manner.
At 11 a.m., the Congress top brass, including ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh, party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, and P Chidambaram, went into a huddle at the All India Congress Committee headquarters here.
The CWC decided to have consultations with leaders from across the country and it was divided into five groups for different regions – northeast, east, north, west, and south. The CWC group for the northeast region included top party leaders such as Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat.
The group for eastern region included AICC general secretary (organisaton) KC Venugopal, ex-Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, and former Union minister Kumari Selja. The northern region group included Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and P Chidambaram.
The western region group was has leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, AK Antony, and Motilal Vora. The group for the southern region included Manmohan Singh, Anand Sharma, and Mukul Wasnik.
The five groups were formed to hold wider consultations with party leaders from across the country that included state unit chiefs, parliamentarian, and Congress Legislative Party leaders.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, his deputy Sachin Pilot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, and Puducherry CM V Narayansamy were also part of the consultation process. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that several leaders who could not make it to New Delhi have been consulted over phone.
The five groups will place their final report before the CWC at 8 p.m.
The CWC is yet to accept Rahul Gandhi’s resignation and began its meeting by urging him to continue as party chief in the wake of the BJP’s “onslaught on democracy and dissent,” Surjewala said.
It, however, proceeded with the deliberations on the party’s next chief after Rahul Gandhi made it clear that he will not take back his resignation. Party sources said that most leaders rooted for Rahul Gandhi to continue or Priyanka Gandhi to be made Congress president, signalling a deep divide in the party over who could lead it in these “trying times”.
Narayansamy told reporters, “I told them that Rahul Gandhi should continue as AICC president. They asked me for an alternative, but I said there is none. We have to persuade him to withdraw his resignation because he is the only leader who can carry the party forward and strengthen it.”
Rahul Gandhi has already said that the next party chief should be a non-Gandhi, making the task of Congress leaders difficult. He said that he will spend the next two days in his constituency Wayanad in flood-hit Kerala.
The delay in selecting the new party chief, sources say, is rooted in the fact that there is lack of consensus on the name of a non-Gandhi president. “We cannot be part of this process of selecting the new party chief,” Sonia Gandhi said, as she along with Rahul Gandhi, recused themselves from the consultation process.
Clarity on the issue is expected by tonight, with Surjewala saying, “There is a sense that this impasse should end as soon as possible, which is why the CWC will meet again at 8 p.m. to take a call.”
He said that Rahul Gandhi, while refusing to continue as party chief, asked the CWC to broad-base the consultation process and engage state chiefs, CLP leaders, MPs, and AICC secretaries.
“The CWC will meet at 8 p.m. and decide on the new party chief,” Surjewala said. “Both Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi felt that if a democratic process is to be obtained, then they have to recuse themselves. Sonia Gandhi said her presence is not required so that the process remains transparent and uninfluenced. That’s why they recused themselves,” he said.
A number of party men have expressed their opinion in public, that the delay in selecting the new Congress chief is harming the party. As the Congress began the process of finding Rahul Gandhi’s successor, senior party leader Shashi Tharoor said on Saturday that the new chief should be a person who can energise the party’s organisation and inspire the voters, asserting that the Congress cannot afford “business as usual”.
“For those following the #CWC meet to decide on a new @INCIndia President: My position remains what I first articulated more than a month ago: CWC should choose an Interim President asap (as soon as possible), then resign & announce open elections for both President & CWC,” the Thiruvananthapuram MP tweeted.
The party has also been grappling with a series of desertions by leaders in Karnataka and Maharashtra, the latest being that by ex-Congress Rajya Sabha chief whip Bhubaneswar Kalita and MP Sanjay Singh.
With elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Haryana coming up, the party is hoping to resolve the leadership issue quickly and move forward.