The Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), which met on Saturday, once again unanimously elected Sonia Gandhi as its chairperson and authorized her to name the leaders of the party in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
The CCP meet, which saw Congress president Rahul Gandhi stepping out of his self-imposed isolation since the recent Lok Sabha poll debacle and posing for photographs with the party’s newly elected MPs, did not have any discussion on the continuing suspense over the leadership of the Grand Old Party.
There had been speculation that the CPP meet could see the party’s newly elected Lok Sabha MPs and veterans from the Rajya Sabha make fervent appeals to Rahul to not just stay on as the Congress president but also lead the party’s 52-member bloc in the Lok Sabha.
It may be recalled that over the past week after Congress was decimated in the general elections, Rahul has been sulking at his Tughlaq Lane residence, refusing to meet most party leaders who have called on him to demand that he rescind his resignation.
Though the Congress Working Committee – the party’s apex decision-making body – has unanimously rejected Rahul’s resignation, the Wayanad MP, who also lost his family seat of Amethi to BJP’s Smriti Irani, has urged colleagues to hunt for his replacement, preferably within a month.
At the CPP, Sonia and Rahul put up a brave front, asserting that the party must continue its fight against political rivals and not let its dwindling numbers in Parliament prevent Congress MPs from holding the government to account by raising issues of the people.
Sonia did drop hints on what is in store for the Grand Old Party, which has asked its reluctant president to carry out an extensive restructuring of the organization. “In this time of crisis, we must acknowledge the numerous challenges confronting the Congress party. The Congress Working Committee met a few days ago to deliberate the next steps and the way forward for us. Several decisive measures to strengthen the party are being discussed,” she said.
Congress sources have told Outlook that the CWC could meet again later this month to discuss a blueprint for an organizational overhaul and that some amendments to the party constitution may also be made to make provisions for regional working presidents or a praesidium to aid and advise the party president. These, of course, will be carried out after discussions between Sonia, Rahul and senior AICC functionaries, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
Sonia’s speech was peppered with praise for Rahul’s leadership, an indication, some members of the CPP told Outlook, of her own reservations against her son’s insistence to work as a common party worker. “I also take this opportunity to whole-heartedly thank Rahulji for his valiant and relentless campaign. As Congress President, he has given his all and toiled night and day for the Congress party,” Sonia said, adding that Rahul demonstrated “fearless leadership” by confronting the Modi government on the “injustices” carried out against different sections of society.
“As Congress President, he earned the respect and love of every worker and crores of voters across the length and breadth of our country. Even as I speak, emotional messages are coming from all corners, vindicating his leadership. We all express our gratitude to him for his sincerity of purpose, his relentless effort, his hard work and leadership,” Sonia added.
Rahul, on his part, gave no hint of whether the calls on him from party colleagues and allies to reconsider his decision to resign as Congress president had made him change his mind. He, however, outlined the role he envisages for the Congress MPs in the conduct of parliamentary proceedings. He asserted that though the party’s strength in the Lok Sabha may be of just 52 members, each member must be resolute in holding the government to account and that “we can make the BJP jump every day.”
In a tweet he posted shortly after the CPP meeting, Rahul said: “The Congress Party may have just 52 Lok Sabha members, but we will work together as pride of brave-hearted lions to protect our Constitution & Institutions & to fearlessly do our duty as the leading Opposition party. The BJP will have no walkover in Parliament.”
Though ineligible to stake claim for the post of Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha because it has only 52 MPs (a party must have a minimum of 54 members in Lok Sabha to have an LoP), the Congress is keen on having Rahul accept the role of Leader of the Congress in Parliament's lower house. During the tenure of the last Lok Sabha, when the Congress had plunged to its electoral nadir of 44 seats, it had chosen veteran Dalit leader Mallikarjun Kharge as Leader of the party in the Lower House. Kharge lost the Lok Sabha polls from his traditional Gulbarga constituency in Karnataka this time.
“Rahul has so far been non-committal on whether he wants to lead the party in the Lok Sabha but he hasn't rejected the proposal altogether. The sense we got from his address to the CPP is that he just might take up the responsibility. The decision now has to be taken by Sonia Gandhi as she is the CPP leader and naturally she will discuss this with Rahul,” a newly elected Congress MP told Outlook.