Cong in a fix over new party president as Rahul is still reluctant to accept role

The Congress is likely to overshoot its September 20 deadline to find a new consensus candidate for party president if Rahul Gandhi does not change his mind

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi | File Photo

With the schedule for the Congress’s presidential election due to start on Saturday clouded by uncertainty following Rahul Gandhi’s steadfast reluctance to accept the role of Congress president, the party is in a fix.

Rahul has reportedly been turning down appeals by leaders and workers to don the role. Sonia Gandhi too has ruled out returning as president because of her health.

The party has not officially commented on the gridlock. It looks likely that the Congress may overshoot its September 20 deadline to find a new president by at least a week to enable it to zero in on a consensus candidate if leaders fail to convince Rahul Gandhi to change his mind.

The Congress had announced in October last year that the election to the post of party president would be held between August 21 and September 20, 2022, but uncertainty is writ large on the rank and file of the party as to who would assume the mantle of party president.

Mistry puts the ball in CWC’s court

Congress’ Central Election Authority chairman Madhusudan Mistry said the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, will decide the date of the election of president and the exact schedule.

Also read: Will Rahul come back? Suspense over Congress’ internal polls

However, the CWC is unlikely to meet soon as president Sonia Gandhi has been tested positive for Covid-19 for the third time. While the central election committee has said that it has the list of delegates, which includes AICC members selected by state units, the election from booth to state level is running behind schedule. The party had set a deadline of May 31 for elections to panels up to block committees and July 20 for district committees while that for the state, including AICC members, is expiring on Saturday.

This had prompted Congress general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal to send a fresh missive to general secretaries and state in-charges asking them to ensure that committees at booth, block, intermediary committees between booth and block levels and district are constituted before August 30.

A senior party leader said most people in the party want Rahul Gandhi to become president again but there have been no indications from him that he has changed his stance on the issue.

A school of thought is also emerging from within the party that in case Rahul Gandhi does not agree to become president, Sonia Gandhi should continue at the helm. In that case she could be assisted by a couple of senior leaders in the day-to-day functioning who may be given an official role like that of working president, a senior leader said.

No full-time president since 2019

Rahul Gandhi had resigned as Congress president after the party suffered its second consecutive defeat in parliamentary elections in 2019. Sonia Gandhi who took over the reins of the party again as interim president had also offered to quit in August 2020 after an open revolt by a section of leaders, referred to as G-23, but the CWC had urged her to continue.

Rahul Gandhi, however, continues to lead the Congress’ campaign against the Modi government. He is set to address a massive rally in September and will start the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” from Kanyakumari.

The Congress party’s leadership crisis has been simmering for years and has only worsened with its back-to-back election defeats and string of exits by high-profile leaders.

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Whoever is elected Congress President will face the Herculean task of leading the party into the 2024 elections for its third clash against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, two of which it has lost.