Sonia Gandhi was back at the helm of the Congress party on Saturday after a day-long marathon meeting of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision making body.
Mrs Gandhi would be the interim president of the party till the AICC elects a new president, general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal announced at a late night press conference on Saturday.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said that she was the best weapon the party had in these “trying circumstances” and thus the CWC had decided on her name.
The taking over of the mantle by Mrs Gandhi can be seen to be a compromise arrived at by the party’s so called old guard and new guard which were stuck on their own choices.
While Mukul Wasnik’s name was doing the rounds till Friday, a late evening meeting called by Mr Venugopal on Friday ostensibly to discuss the abrogation of Article 370 had set the agenda for Saturday’s CWC with Mr Gandhi asking all the CLP leaders, state in-charges, PCC presidents and MPs to stay back and join the deliberations before the CWC Saturday morning.
Mr Gandhi told the leaders that he would not allow only the CWC to decide on the next Congress president and wider consultations would be held with them.
The drama on Saturday began right in the morning when the CWC met and asked Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his decision yet again. Not only did Mr Gandhi refuse but he and Sonia Gandhi recused themselves from the meeting, saying it was not correct for them to be present there.
After they left, the extended meeting decided to form five regional committees comprising CLP leaders, MPs state in-charges and MPs coordinated by Sushmita Deb, Gaurav Gogoi, Arun Yadav, Rajiv Satav and Rajni Patil which were asked to confer among themselves and decide on names in order of priority.
Sources said all the five committees are supposed to have given Mr Gandhi’s name as the first preference which was later read out at the second CWC meeting which was held at 8 pm in the evening.
However, Mr Gandhi, who is understood to have stood firm on his decision to not reconsider his resignation, reached an hour late for the CWC possibly so that any discussions on his name were already done with before he reached.
He left exactly after an hour and told the media that he had been called to discuss the situation in Kashmir and the CWC meeting was still on.
Just half an hour later, the party released the CWC resolution which said: “...the CWC unanimously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi to take over as the interim president pending the election of a regular president by the AICC”.
Briefing the media after the morning meeting, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in the CWC, there was a sense that the situation of impasse on Congress leadership should be resolved as soon as possible. “Therefore it was felt that the CWC should meet again this evening and take a call on the issue,” Mr Surjewala said.
When the CWC met again at 8 pm, the committees are understood to have again proposed the name of Mr Gandhi. However, when he refused again, the CWC proposed that Sonia Gandhi take over as the interim president.
On Friday afternoon, Congress treasurer Ahmed Patel and senior leaders A.K. Antony and K.C. Venugopal had met Mrs Gandhi following which Maharashtra leader Mukul Wasnik’s name was said to have been zeroed upon as the interim president.
However, Mr Wasnik, seen to be close to Mr Patel, was not acceptable to the younger leaders.
Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora had earlier this week batted for either Jyotiraditya Scindia or Sachin Pilot to succeed Mr Gandhi. Others, including Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, had batted for a young leader.
However, Mrs Gandhi, who had successfully run the party since 1998, emerged as the most acceptable choice for both the old and the new guard.