New Delhi: The Congress on Wednesday sought to downplay Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's remarks in a new book regarding a non-Gandhi president for the party, saying they were made in July last year in a different context and workers throughout the country want Rahul Gandhi to return as party chief.
As the party tried to put the leadership issue to rest after Priyanka Gandhi's comments created a stir, party spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil made a claim that former party president Rahul Gandhi could have become the prime minister during UPA-II as the then PM Manmohan Singh was having health issues and had offered to make way for Gandhi, who urged him to complete the term.
In the book "India Tomorrow: Conversations with the Next Generation of Political Leaders", Priyanka Gandhi endorsed her brother Rahul Gandhi's stand on a non-Gandhi president for the Congress, saying there are plenty of people capable of leading the party.
Though the book was released recently by Oxford University Press, the Congress said Priyanka Gandhi's interview was conducted after Rahul Gandhi stepped down as party president taking responsibility for the 2019 Lok Sabha poll drubbing.
In the book, which features interviews with young leaders in India, Priyanka told authors Pradeep Chhibber and Harsh Shah, "he (Rahul Gandhi) has said that none of us should be the president of the party and I am in full agreement with him. I think that the party should find its own path also." Sonia Gandhi is the interim president of the party and there has been a growing demand from a section in the Congress for return of Rahul Gandhi as chief. With the spotlight on the Congress' leadership issue, Priyanka Gandhi's remarks set off speculation about the Gandhi family's role in the party.
The Congress fielded its spokespersons to clear the air over the issue, with party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeting that the remarks were a year old and made on July 1, 2019, while the context today was to take on the "vicious attack on India's polity" by the current dispensation and fighting it fearlessly.
At an online media briefing, Gohil, when asked by the remarks, asserted that the Gandhi family had always shown large-heartedness and never aspired for power.
Gohil also cited past examples to assert that the Gandhi family never hankered for posts.
"All workers of the Congress and youth across the country want that Rahul Gandhi should lead us," he said, adding that it is the Congress Working Comitteee and the AICC that has the final say in such matters.
Asked about the presence of the Gandhi family in the party and its potential to undermine a non-family chief, Priyanka Gandhi said,"I think it would only undermine somebody if that was the way we wanted to be. But if we wanted to step back and give other people the freedom to take decisions and do anything, I don't see why there should be an encumbrance." Noting that none in her family look at things like that, Priyanka Gandhi said if there were to be another party president, "He would be my boss. If he tells me tomorrow that he doesn't want me in Uttar Pradesh but wants me to be in Andaman and Nicobar, then I would jolly well go to Andaman and Nicobar." "It depends on me - I could say 'sorry I don't care, I'm going to do what I want. But, I don't think that any of us have that attitude. I think that we actually believe in the democratisation of our party," she added.
On her and Rahul's role going forward, Priyanka is quoted as saying, "If we could enable that process of actually empowering other young people to participate and become leaders, then we would have achieved something. I see that as my role." In a series of tweets, Surjewala said Nehru-Gandhi family has held together and served Congress unmindful of the trappings of power. In 2004, Sonia Gandhi set an example by sacrificing power to serve the party, while in 2019, Rahul Gandhi showed the courage of conviction and stepped down as Congress President, Surjewala said. "We at @INCIndia appreciate the sudden media interest (egged on by BJP) in a year old remark," he said in a series if tweets.
"The context today is to take on the vicious attack on India's polity by Modi-Shah dispensation & fight it fearlessly on front foot," Surjewala said. Millions of Congress workers and leaders have seen that Rahul Gandhi has led the fight tireleesly, undaunted by the setbacks and "vile attacks by Modi government" on a daily basis, he said. It is this fearlessness and uncompromising courage that the Congress requires, workers respect and nation needs, Surjewala said.
In her remarks carried in the book, Priyanka also said her brother had done a lot of work to democratise the party and had conducted elections in the Youth Congress and National Students' Union of India (NSUI) because he wanted to facilitate new and younger talent in the party.
"In fact, oddly enough, he was attacked from within his party for it," she said. To a query on whether she would give a shot at leadership if Rahul decides to stay away, Priyanka said she has her work cut out in UP where she has her hands full.
"It is an immense task, if we do manage to revive the party in UP, it will actually do a lot to the party in the rest of the country as well. It's a huge task," she said.