Intense speculation is mounting within the Congress over perhaps yet another extension to party president Sonia Gandhi even as there is absolute uncertainty on when her son and vice president Rahul Gandhi would take over the reins of the party. Sonia Gandhi is still recovering from a nasty fall she had during a road show in Varanasi in August and in view of her prolonged illness, the party has not taken a call on a number of crucial issues. Sources said that since she had started meeting select people from Thursday, a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is likely to be convened soon to renew her term, as well as pass a resolution expressing full support to the country’s war against terror.
Sonia Gandhi’s one-year extended tenure is virtually over and though she continues to be the supreme leader of her party, she has to obtain a formal sanction from the CWC for extending her presidentship. She had been last elected for a five-year term in 2010 and was granted a year’s extension at a meeting held on 8 September 2015. The decision regarding her continuation would provide a clear indication on whether Rahul was ready for elevation. The vice president has been getting a good response during his 2,500 kilometre-long Maha Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, which would end on 5 October.
On the following day on 6 October, the party has planned a massive rally in the national capital to felicitate him. Sources said that the rally was looking at a target of one lakh people of primarily farmers, though it is unclear how this number would be summoned up. Until most recently, the crowds were always brought in by former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupender Singh Hooda, who is, this time, unlikely to play the role of the mobiliser. Till Saturday morning, the party was unable to finalise the venue for the rally and it was being suggested that it would perhaps be held outside the AICC office on 24, Akbar Road.
Sonia Gandhi is understood to have told those close to her that she was not interested any longer in leading the party. She had done more than her share for the family and had brought the Congress to power at the Centre on two occasions, besides enabling it to win in nearly 16 states during the 18 and half years she has held office. She has made it known that it was now up to her children, Rahul and Priyanka to take over and lead the organisation nurtured by four generations of the Nehru-Gandhis. Throughout her illness, she was not even meeting her closest aides and preferred recovering away from any media spotlight. Her first public appearance was on Thursday and she subsequently also received External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who called on her to apprise her on what had transpired at the all-party meet in the wake of the Uri attack and the surgical strikes by India that followed.
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However, a large number of Congress leaders are of the view that Sonia Gandhi should continue at the helm of affairs for some more time, given that people by and large were still not convinced regarding Rahul’s abilities to provide the leadership. Therefore, it is expected that she will play a prominent role in the distribution of tickets for the five state elections scheduled for early next year. A large number of party activists from UP, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab have amongst others put in requests seeking appointment to discuss electoral strategies.
Rahul on his part has been working extra hard, but a section in the party still continues to believe that he must rope in Priyanka for her charismatic capacity to communicate with the common people. Sonia Gandhi is keen as well that both siblings should work together. In the last few weeks, the party has not adequately responded to political developments in the country and has permitted several opportunities to pin the BJP to the ground go waste. It is being stated in party circles that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his speech at the National Executive in Kerala showered praises at Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, as the three great leaders who have touched the common people since Independence, the Congress could have retaliated by calling him anti Dalit for missing out on Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Many party activists are demanding that political response by the spokespersons needed to exhibit more maturity and astuteness, rather than giving in to the tendency to shoot from the hip. The party is thus preparing itself for meeting fresh challenges.