Rahul Gandhi “will consider” returning as Congress President, sources said Saturday afternoon after it emerged that several senior leaders, including the chief ministers of Punjab, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh, as well as former Defence Minister AK Antony, urged the Kerala MP to come back.
Statements urging Mr Gandhi’s return as party boss were made at today’s Congress Working Committee meeting, which sources said had all but finalised a schedule for full-scale organisational polls – which includes choosing a new President – to be held by September next year.
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi reportedly urged Mr Gandhi to take charge of the party now.
“I will consider…” Mr Gandhi replied, according to sources.
Rahul Gandhi quit as Congress chief two years ago after the party’s horrendous showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election; his resignation threw the party into a leadership crisis from which it has yet to fully recover and prompted the reinstatement of his mother, Sonia Gandhi, as interim chief.
Mr Gandhi had taken over from his mother, who’d led the party for 19 years, in 2017.
This is far from the first time that Mr Gandhi has been urged to come back.
As he quit in 2019 Mr Gandhi had called on someone not from the Nehru-Gandhi to lead the party (unthinkable in the eyes of some loyalists), and remained firm in his decision despite several appeals.
Congress leaders periodically urged him to return; in December last year, Randeep Surjewala declared “99.9 per cent want Rahul Gandhi as Congress President” and, in January, the Delhi unit of the party passed a resolution asking him to take back the reigns.
Today’s calls also come as Mrs Gandhi underlined her position as a “full-time and hands-on Congress President”; she was responding to critics – such as the ‘G-23’ – who have been pushing for an organisational overhaul and the election of “visible and effective leadership”.
Mrs Gandhi, who has previously stressed her reluctance to continue in the top post for longer than absolutely necessary, made number of pointed statements, including telling critics that a revival of the Congress was welcomed but “requires unity and keeping the party’s interests paramount”.
The ‘G-23’ was the name given to a group of senior Congress leaders, including veterans like Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who have questioned the Gandhi family’s leadership and called for sweeping organisational changes.
The group wrote to Mrs Gandhi last year – the letter triggered a civil war-like situation within the Congress, with Gandhi loyalists hitting out at the dissenting leaders.
Mrs Gandhi met the dissenting group last year and changes (including the election) were discussed.