Is Rahul ready to be Congress chief again? Party members see hope as ‘he doesn’t reject idea’

New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi seems prepared to return as Congress president as, unlike in the past, he didn’t reject the demands for his comeback from a host of leaders at a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting Tuesday.

Rahul Gandhi

The meeting of the party’s top decision-making body had been convened to discuss the India-China border tensions, the COVID crisis, and the state of the economy, but the discussions soon turned into a chorus of requests for Gandhi’s return as Congress president.

Gandhi had resigned from the post last July, taking responsibility for the Congress’ debacle in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. His mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi had subsequently assumed charge as interim Congress president.

“Many pointed out that while Congress president Sonia Gandhiji has been raising all the important issues, one needs someone to be there on the ground and Rahul Gandhi is the best fit for it,” said a Congress leader privy to the proceedings of the virtual meeting.

“Most of the leaders, including the senior ones, who attended the meeting asked Gandhi to think this over.”

The virtual meeting was attended by senior Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, P. Chidambaram, Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Rahul Gandhi, and Ghulam Nabi Azad, among others. Rahul’s sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attended as well.

A youth leader, sources said, suggested that an online convention be called — since a physical one may not be possible owing to the social distancing norms warranted by the Covid-19 pandemic — and Rahul Gandhi declared party president once again. 

Asked to comment on the demand made by Congress leaders to bring back Gandhi as party president, spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said at a virtual press conference: “This is definitely a sentiment of each Congress worker. But today the discussion was on issues before the nation like the Chinese transgression, fuel price hike and extreme conditions due to the pandemic.”

‘An online convention’

A second Congress leader who attended the meeting said the discussion on Rahul Gandhi’s return as party chief “started with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot making a demand that he take the position once again”. “Other leaders also joined in and pointed out how the party needs his leadership at this crucial juncture,” the leader added. 

Sources said Gandhi did not react to the demand made by the Congress leaders but maintained that he will continue to carry out his work, which is to raise his “voice against the wrong policies of the Modi government”. 

“I will continue to raise pressing issues that affect the public at large. I will continue to do what I have been doing. All other issues can be taken up by all of you,” Rahul Gandhi was quoted as having said.

One section of Congress leaders took this statement as an indication that Gandhi is not opposed to the idea of taking over as party president again.

“Considering he didn’t reject the idea outright, it seems he is not averse to it. But at the same time, the fact that he said he will continue doing the work… he has been doing so far and the rest of the leadership has to take a call on other issues, was seen by others as a sign of him not being interested in leading the party,” said a Congress leader.

The meeting also witnessed some tense moments as a senior Congress leader suggested that, rather than targeting PM Modi, the party should focus on criticizing the government’s policies.

“Rahul Gandhi then went on to explain how there is no BJP government but Modi government. The entire government is a one-man show. Other leaders also pointed out that no one has personally targeted Modi but his policies only,” said another leader.

According to another leader, the remark of the aforementioned Congress member “upset” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. “Priyanka said it is only Rahul who shows courage to criticize the policies of the Modi government,” the leader said. 

Rahul Gandhi took charge as party president in 2017 and resigned after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll-drubbing, as the Congress tally stayed in double digits in a House of 543 for a second consecutive time.