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Questions over his leadership may delay Rahul Gandhi’s elevation

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A large section of the Congress is unsure of the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, and wants Sonia to remain head of party for now.

The much anticipated and already delayed change in leadership of the Congress party — the elevation of vice president Rahul Gandhi as party president — could well be pushed back further given a significant section within the party is urging Sonia Gandhi to stay on.

Highly placed sources in the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is a large section in the party that wants Sonia not to make way for her son yet as they feel there are “gaps in his leadership”.

As per the poll schedule, the election for the post of the Congress president is to take place between 16 September and 15 October.

“There is a significant section in the party which feels Rahulji isn’t yet ready to take charge, and that there are perceived gaps in his ability to lead. It’s also clear he doesn’t remain here for some crucial periods every year and that becomes a hiccup in smooth, focused leadership,” an informed source in the party said, on condition of anonymity.

It was in January 2013 that Rahul Gandhi was appointed vice-president at the party’s Jaipur chintan shivir or brainstorming session.

Sources in the party say Rahul’s patchy leadership is apparent from the fact that Congress has completely “failed to take advantage” of any anger or disillusionment with the ruling BJP. This despite there being no shortage of issues — from demonetisation to the farmer crisis, the inability to create enough jobs and other local issues.

One source said that a senior party leader, in an internal forum, openly expressed dissatisfaction with Rahul’s handling of the farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh.

The leader, according to the source, said that “even RSS workers on the ground managed to oppose the government’s handling of the situation given the sensitivity of the issue, but the Congress top leadership seemed inept since Rahul went to Mandsaur for a day and then took off for his non-negotiable travel abroad.”

Given the disenchantment with his ability to lead, his elevation by next month might not be a fait accompli as predicted. After the Congress Working Committee meet in June this year, which cleared the way for organisational elections, ThePrint had reported that despite the public clamour, the tone and tenor of the CWC meet showed the party remained undecided on Rahul’s elevation.

The CWC on that occasion was unequivocal about Sonia asserting control, and taking on the Modi government head on, instead of Rahul leading charge.

However, what is also true is that the number of people within the party asking for Rahul to become president has also increased over the past two-three years with several youth leaders he mentored now gaining some position of eminence in the party. Thus, the party will have to appease both sides with its decision.

Moreover, Sonia Gandhi’s health and the party’s preference of ensuring the elevation happens organically through organisational polls will also determine the outcome. The party might also not be in favour of rocking the boat ahead of elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh due at the end of this year.

For now the party’s is officially refusing to confirm there’s any delay in Rahul’s elevation.

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