The appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the Congress president is going to happen either by the end of this month or by 19 November, the birth anniversary of his grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The appointment may take place during the Congress session that is likely to be held in Bengaluru. He will be replacing his mother Sonia Gandhi, the longest serving Congress president who had taken over from Sitaram Kesri 19 years back. Highly placed party sources confirmed to The Sunday Guardian that the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi has been reserved by the party for six days, from 14 November to 19 November. Party sources said that a post-appointment event might be held in Talkatora.
Multiple party sources said that with the intra-party “elections” in all the states either completed or on the verge of completion, the appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the next party president was a foregone conclusion. The chances of anyone from the party challenging his appointment were bleak, party leaders said.
With the elevation of Rahul Gandhi, many young party leaders are expected to be given important posts and the old stalwarts who are not on the good books of Rahul, are likely to be sidelined, including some of the top party functionaries who are presently close to Sonia Gandhi. A revamp of the various departments of the party, including the media department, is expected by the end of this year.
“The sidelining of the ‘elders’ have been going on. So do not expect a ‘night of the long knives’ scenario once Rahul takes over. The elders have already reconciled to the fact that their time is over and most of them have retreated to the background. A few of them are resisting the new changes, but things will fall in place after he is officially announced as the party president in Bengaluru. The schedule for the session has not yet been announced, as some party leaders want the session to be held in Punjab,” a senior party leader said.
In the past, the Congress president’s election had witnessed multiple nominations, with former Congress presidents like Sonia Gandhi, Narasimha Rao, and Indira Gandhi facing challengers before being elected as party president.
In the last such election, the results of which were declared on 15 November 2000, of the 7,771 votes cast by the party’s national electoral college consisting of Congress delegates, Sonia Gandhi had secured 7,448. Her challenger, Congress Working Committee member Jitendra Prasada, secured just 94 votes. As many as 229 votes, most of them marked for Sonia Gandhi, were declared invalid. Jitendra Prasad passed away within three months of the results.
Before that, in July 1997, it was Sitaram Kesri who won the elections by winning 6,224 votes while contesting against Sharad Pawar, who got 882 votes and Rajesh Pilot, who got 354 votes. Later, Kesri was removed as the party president in March 1998 by the CWC, which appointed Sonia Gandhi in his place.
Sources said that the intra-party elections to “elect” party functionaries in the state as per the “democratic norms” of the party, a condition that was pushed by Rahul Gandhi, have been completed in most of the states. “Kerala, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Goa, West Bengal have all completed organisational polls. Apart from that, a single line resolution seeking appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the next party president too has been passed. In all the states, the present party president has been given the authority to appoint the new state presidents, wherever there is the need, apart from other party functionaries,” the party source quoted above said.
The speculation is that the Congress session might be conducted on either 14 November or 19 November. 14 November is the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, whereas on 19 November, Congress will be celebrating the 100th birth anniversary of Indira Gandhi, India’s first woman Prime Minister.
According to party sources, Congress’ Central Election Authority (CEA) headed by Mullappally Ramachandran has already shared the tentative schedule for electing the new party president to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision making body. “The CEA is likely to push for holding the elections to elect the new party president after Diwali, in which Rahul Gandhi will be elected and his appointment will be done in the AICC session,” the party source said.
A total of 846,000 booth committees, 9,000 block committees and 9,300 district committees were created by Congress Election Commission to conduct the intra-party elections.
A senior Congress leader, seeking anonymity, said, “I will not say that there has been 100% transparency in the Congress party elections, but we have tried our best despite the fact that the elections are taking place after a long time. It is no small achievement that the process was completed without any act of violence,” the leader said.
This, according to party leaders, signals the acceptability of Rahul Gandhi among the cadre. “You will see a new energised party cadre in the run-up to 2019. That much I can guarantee you, regardless of the 2019 results,” a senior functionary said.
The Congress Election Commission had appointed 40 Pradesh Returning Officers (PROs), 68 Assistant Pradesh Returning Officers (APROs) as well as District Pradesh Returning Officers (DPROs) to “conduct the election”.
“We appointed competent people like former ministers, party leaders and known members as PROs for efficiently carrying out the elections. It is not an easy task to ensure smooth elections, but this time there has been no major conflict in the AICC over PCCs.”
After repeated reminders from the Election Commission for conducting intra-party elections, the party was compelled to put the election process on the fast track to meet the deadline of 31 October that the Congress high-command had fixed for itself.
“It has been a hectic week. Some PROs have spent 20 hours straight among people in blocks, districts etc., to complete procedures in different states,” said a leader who was involved in the exercise.