New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi was on Saturday appointed as interim president of the Congress at a crucial meeting of the party's working committee here, after Rahul Gandhi refused pleas by partymen to take back his resignation.
The announcement was made Saturday night after Congress Working Committee (CWC) accepted Rahul Gandhi's resignation at its second meeting of the day. The party's highest decision-making body banked on the experience and tested leadership of Sonia Gandhi, to lead it in what the CWC described as "trying times". She returned as party president almost 20 months after making way for his son Rahul Gandhi in December 2017. Sonia has led the party for almost 19 years before she quit the post citing health reasons.
She returned to the helm of the party two months after the Congress suffered a massive drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls under Rahul Gandhi's leadership. The CWC met twice during the day to find a successor to Rahul Gandhi and Sonia's name was decided after hours of consultations with top party leaders, including state unit chiefs, Congress Legislature Party leaders, party MPs, besides leaders of frontal organisations. The Congress Working Committee on Saturday passed three resolutions on Rahul Gandhi's contribution as party president, Sonia Gandhi being appointed interim chief till the AICC elects a regular president, and on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The resolution on Jammu and Kashmir asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government to assuage concerns of people in a transparent manner. "The CWC considered the views of PCC Presidents, CLP Leaders, AICC Secretaries and Members of Parliament. The CWC unanimously resolved that Shri Rahul Gandhi should continue as Congress President, as desired by all who were consulted today, and requested him to accept this decision. However, Shri Rahul Gandhi declined to withdraw his resignation.”
"Consequently, the CWC unanimously resolved to request Smt. Sonia Gandhi to take over as Interim President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC," said the CWC resolution which was read out by party leaders K C Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala later. Lauding Rahul Gandhi's contribution, the CWC also said in another resolution that "he came to be seen as a bulwark against the forces of hate, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and divisiveness."
"Rahul Gandhi's instinctive moral compass is evident from the manner in which he has taken personal responsibility for the disappointing performance of the party in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, thereby setting new standards of accountability in public life. Rahul Gandhi gave a new sense of aggression and modernity to the party organization and opened up numerous opportunities to the younger generation,” the CWC said.
Earlier, after the first CWC meeting that started at 11 AM, it was decided to hold further consultations with PCC chiefs, CLP leaders, frontal organisations and MPs, and five groups for regions of east, north east, north, west and south were formed. During the consultations, state chiefs and MPs, backed Rahul Gandhi to continue on the post despite his refusal to reconsider his resignation. However, he had in the morning asserted that he would not take back his resignation, after CWC members unanimously urged him to reconsider.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi recused themselves from the consultation process saying they cannot be part of it 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. "There is process of consultation and naturally Rahul ji and myself, we cannot be part of that consultation," Sonia Gandhi told reporters.
Asked how their names were in the sub-groups for consultations, she said, "That's obviously a mistake, because we cannot be in that." At 11 am, the Congress' top brass, including ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh, party general secretaries Priyanka Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and P Chidambaram, went into a huddle at the All India Congress Committee headquarters here.
Later, as the CWC members met at around 9 pm at the AICC headquarters here, Rahul Gandhi did not initially join the leaders. He later came but rejected the plea to reconsider his resignation. Sources said he declined after Priyanka Gandhi and Venugopal urged him to reconsider his decision. He later told reporters that he had come to participate in the CWC deliberations on Jammu and Kashmir and asked the prime minister to "clearly and transparently" assuage concerns of people on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
He alleged that there were reports of violence coming from Jammu and Kashmir and the government must be transparent on it. During the wider consultation process, only a few suggested other names while a majority of them said the party will face desertions if Rahul Gandhi does not remain the leader. Some even told Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to prevail upon Rahul to reconsider his May 25 resignation, the sources said. A number of partymen have expressed their opinion in public that the delay in selecting the new Congress chief is harming the party.