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Congress poll loss introspection turns into show of support for Rahul, CWC claims responsibility

Senior party leaders asked for Rahul Gandhi to be reinstated as president, as did party workers demonstrating outside the Congress office in Delhi. But Sonia to continue.

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New Delhi: The Congress party Sunday held a meeting of its top decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), to introspect on the reasons for the party’s defeat in all five states that went to polls in the recently-concluded set of assembly elections.

At the meeting, the CWC unanimously accepted responsibility for the electoral loss.

“The party accepts that due to shortcoming in our strategy, we could not effectively expose the misrule of BJP state government in four states, and overcome anti-incumbency in the state of Punjab in the short time after effecting a change of leadership,” the All India Congress Committee (AICC) organisation in-charge K.C. Venugopal told the press after the meeting.

The party also said that Sonia Gandhi will continue to lead the party.

“The CWC unanimously reaffirms its faith in the leadership of Shrimati Sonia Gandhi and requests the Congress president to lead from the front, address organisational weaknesses, effect comprehensive and necessary organisational changes in order to take on political challenges,” Venugopal said, reading out a statement.

The party has also decided to hold a chintan shivir or brainstorming session of senior leaders immediately after the current Parliament session to discuss the party’s strategy in the state elections scheduled for end-2022, in 2023 and the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.

Venugopal said that a CWC meet will be held before the chintan shivir to once again discuss the organisational and strategic matters that will be discussed in the meeting.

The meeting, held for over four hours, at the party headquarters on Akbar Road in the national capital, was convened by interim president Sonia Gandhi, as clamour grew among sections of leaders and party workers across the country to fix responsibility for the defeat.

However, the day before the meeting, a news report that sparked speculation of the three Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — possibly “resigning” saw the optics of the CWC meet turn, even as the Congress denied such claims.

However, some party leaders ThePrint spoke to said that the speculation was a ploy to “deflect attention from the poll results” and “garner sympathy for the Gandhis”.

“This is going to be the same as 2019 when he (Rahul Gandhi) resigned after the Lok Sabha (elections). The Youth Congress and party workers will again demonstrate across the country saying that Rahul is their leader. And that will be the end of that,” said a Congress leader who didn’t wish to be named.

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Extended CWC amid chants for Rahul as president 

The extended meeting of the CWC was called by Sonia Gandhi and was attended by 57 members. Apart from the members of the committee, permanent members and special invitees were also invited for the meeting.

Speaking before the meeting, senior party leaders like D.K. Shivakumar and Ashok Gehlot said that Rahul Gandhi should become party president.

“Rahul Gandhi should become the party president. For the last three decades, nobody from the Gandhi family became a PM or a minister. It is significant to understand that the Gandhi family is important for Congress’ unity,” said Gehlot.

Similarly, Karnataka Congress chief D.K. Shivakumar said Rahul Gandhi should take up the Congress president’s role full time “immediately”.

“As I have said it earlier as well, Sh. Rahul Gandhi should take up the Congress presidency in a full time role immediately. This is the wish of millions of Congress workers like me,” tweeted Shivakumar.

Before the meeting began, party workers from the Delhi Congress, Indian Youth Congress (IYC) and National Students Union of India (NSUI) also demonstrated in front of the Congress headquarters to demand Gandhi’s reinstatement as president. The workers continued to sit outside the office and chant slogans of “Rahul Gandhi zindabad” for the entire duration of the meeting.

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G23 and its demands

Some members of the G-23, a group of senior Congress leaders who had written a dissent note to Sonia Gandhi in 2019, of whom four — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal and Mukul Wasnik — are in the CWC met at Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Delhi residence Saturday.

All of them attended the meeting Sunday and were expected to ask for the elections to the CWC and for the Congress presidency to be advanced. 

The party had earlier announced that elections for the post of party president and subsequently for the CWC will be held between August-September 2022 after a membership drive, launched in October 2021, ends. The drive is scheduled to end on 31 March but may be extended by a month. 

ThePrint has learnt that some members of the G-23 were personally called by Sonia Gandhi inviting them to the meeting. 

Reports also suggest that prior to the meeting, the G-23 had suggested Mukul Wasnik’s name as Congress president. However, that was rejected.

It’s still unclear whether these demands were raised at the meeting.

‘Same as 2019’

The post of the Congress president fell vacant after the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, when Rahul Gandhi vacated the position claiming moral responsibility for the party’s crushing defeat.

Thereafter, Sonia Gandhi took over as interim president till elections for president could be held. Presidential elections were first deferred as Congress workers across the country protested Rahul’s resignation, and thereafter due to the pandemic.

Speaking to ThePrint, Congress leaders said that the conversation around the resignation of the Gandhis was being used to “deflect attention from the loss in the elections”. 

“There is going to be no resignation. Where and what will Rahul Gandhi resign from? Somebody who says he’s just an ‘ordinary MP from Wayanad’ and has no organisational role. This is now going to be used to deflect attention from the loss and gain sympathy for him,” said a Congress MP on condition of anonymity.

“This is going to be the same as 2019 when he (Rahul) resigned after the Lok Sabha (elections). The Youth Congress and party workers will again demonstrate across the country saying that Rahul is their leader. And that will be the end of that,” the MP added.

“We are worried because elections in other states get affected if the party suffers a loss in the previous elections. In states where we are a part of a coalition government, coalition partners might not want to work with us or hard-press us for seats. The message needs to go out that the party and its organisation is in strong hands. Getting caught in these semantics won’t help the party,” said another MP who didn’t wish to be named.

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