Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has resigned as party chief post the Lok Sabha poll debacle, was conspicuous by his absence from the crucial Congress core committee meeting to discuss the probable names to lead the grand old party as an “interim president”. So were UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, who chose to proceed for their “scheduled” visit to Rae Bareilly which has been the Lok Sabha constituency of the Congress’ first family for decades.
While Congress chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala insisted after the meeting that “Rahul Gandhi was, is and will remain the Congress president”, the name of former Union Minister A K Antony was discussed as the probable interim president until a final call for the organisational restructuring is done.
“Rahulji was, is and will remain the Congress president. We have no doubt about it,” Surjewala told reporters, when asked about the situation arising out of Rahul’s offer to resign. Senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram, KC Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh, Anand Sharma and Surjewala were present in the meeting chaired by Antony. All the leaders present at the meeting were members of the party’s core group, which was formed for the Lok Sabha polls.
The leaders also discussed the party’s strategy and preparations for the Assembly elections in Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand and Maharashtra later this year.
Party sources said former the likely move of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, who could float his own new political outfit, was also pondered over given much importance. Like other state units, Haryana Congress too has been a victim of internal squabbles between the Hooda, Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar and Surjewala factions. The Jind Assembly bye election was the litmus test for the party in which Surjewala lost without direct support from Hooda and Tanwar.
Rahul had offered to quit as the party chief during a May 25 meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), which was called to analyse the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha polls in which it managed to win just 52 seats. The CWC had unanimously rejected his offer to quit but Rahul was apparently firm on his stand.
When questioned about Rahul’s absence, Surjewala clarified that contrary to the speculation in the media, there was no core group in the party now as all election-related committees had ceased to exist. Surjewala said Venugopal, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary, organisation, had said a meeting of the party’s general secretaries would be called to take stock of the situation arising out of the Lok Sabha polls and on the upcoming state elections.
Asked about who would be the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, he said according to the party constitution, Congress Parliamentary Party leader Sonia Gandhi was authorised to take a decision in this regard, adding that it would be conveyed once the decision was taken by her.