The Congress is likely to appoint its new president today after consultations at a meeting of the party’s top decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee, over two months after Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post to take responsibility for the drubbing at the hands of the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.
Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi will not be a part of the decision-making process as they walked out of the meeting midway.
But both Rahul Gandhi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi won’t be part of the deliberations to select the party president as the two have left the meeting after the CWC set up five groups for discussions with state unit leaders according to regions.
After leaving the meeting, Sonia Gandhi said it would be improper for her and Rahul to be present in the consultations process to choose a new chief. Inside the CWC, just before walking out, Sonia and Rahul said it would be a conflict if interest. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, however, stayed on as she is a general secretary in the party.
Veteran leader Mukul Wasnik and former Congress leader in Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, have emerged as the frontrunners for the post, but there is a degree of uncertainty after Rahul Gandhi intervened in the selection process. Sources said he does not want to leave the election on old guards in Congress Parliamentary Party and wants state leaders and general secretaries to have a say too.
At a meeting held on Friday, he told leaders that he was happy to note that the party was under pressure to select its new chief and drew an analogy with a tiger, which maintained its ferocity under pressure. “I am happy that the Congress is under pressure and this will jolt the Congress into action,” Gandhi is learnt to have told the party leaders.
Sources said the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leaders and departmental heads present at the meeting were told to hold back till Saturday for consultations on the selection of the new party chief.
The party general secretaries, in-charges and other CWC members would be asked to hold consultations in groups with PCC chiefs, CLP leaders and departmental heads separately and come out with a consensus as regards the name of the new Congress president, they added.
One of the PCC chiefs from a northern state told the meeting that certain names doing the rounds for the party president’s post were being propped up by vested corporate interests, the sources said.
The PCC chief said the fact that the names of such leaders, who had enjoyed corporate patronage in the past, were being projected was bringing a bad name to the party and this should be resolved at the earliest.
The meeting was held at the Gurdwara Rakab Ganj road “war room” of the Congress to discuss the government’s decision to abrogate the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution in Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two Union territories.
The sources said Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, informed the leaders at the meeting about the government’s action in Jammu and Kashmir and told them about the party’s position on the issue.
He also told them about the CWC resolution deploring the manner in which the government took the decision on Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources said UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, senior party leaders Azad, P Chidambaram, the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Puducherry – Ashok Gehlot and V Narayanasamy – were present at the meeting among others.