Before son-rise: Sonia Gandhi's term ends on 31 Dec. Will Rahul take over?
With the deadline of organisational polls nearing, the Congress will be forced to take a decision on electing a new party president. In a meeting held on 8 September, 2015, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision making body in the party, gave an extension to the existing CWC members and also to incumbent Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This extension expires on 31 December.
Would this mean that Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is finally taking over the reigns of the party from his mother? His elevation has created considerable curiosity among party workers and the media and yet there is no clarity on Rahul's coronation as party president.
Party sources claim that yet another extension to all the CWC members and party president is on the cards considering that party heavyweights are busy preparing for the crucial assembly polls due next year. Five states - Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa - go to polls earlier next year and the central leadership is unlikely to disturb the status quo before these crucial polls.
In such a probability, it is unlikely that Rahul will take over before the polls and Sonia could get yet another extension. Party functionaries called the CWC resolution on Sonia's extension a technical formality and that it would have no impact whatsoever on the timing of Rahul's elevation.
Having been the longest serving president of the 132-year-old party, for 18 years, Sonia is likely to continue at the helm. Despite her illness, the wait for Rahul to succeed her will continue.
During the 2010 plenary meeting of the party in Jaipur, Sonia was elected as the party president for the next 5 years and in 2015 the CWC gave her a year's extension. The deadline of the extension gets over this year and the party will have to notify the Election Commission (EC) about the organisational polls.
All political parties have to notify the EC about the mode and periodicity of polls at different levels within the party including that of the party president. However, the Congress has not clearly spelled out whether it will go for polls or give yet another extension which has has been the trend for the last 19 years.
Having taken over as president in 1998, Sonia was given a 5 year tenure during the 2010 plenary session of the party held in Jaipur. On 8 September 2015, the CWC gave yet another extension to her which expires at the end of this year. In addition, the CWC passed a resolution wherein the term of the president was reduced from five to three years.
Moreover, a similar fate awaits the CWC which in all probability would get an extension too. The CWC last witnessed elections way back in 1997 when Sitaram Kesri was the party president. Since then all the CWC members have been nominated by Sonia and it is unlikely that this arrangement would be disturbed before the polls.
The CWC was last constituted in 2011 and 12 of its members were given a three year term and these members continue to be part of the party's most influential body. As described by the party constitution, the 12 member CWC team should be chosen by an electoral college that should consist AICC members and an equal number of representatives nominate by the party president. These nominees should belong to the marginalised sections of the society such as Dalits, tribals and women.
One of the top functionaries of the Congress party claimed that the CWC is likely to hold a meeting before 31 December, the deadline to notify EC, where the formalities of giving extensions are likely to be made. He went on to claim that this whole process is only a technicality and that Rahul could take over after the Assembly elections.
Even senior Congress leader Ambika Soni, while speaking at a recently held meeting in Himachal Pradesh, claimed Rahul would soon take over the baton from his mother to become the Congress president. "We know that Rahul Gandhi is going to become the Congress President soon but I cannot provide you any further details," she said.
Interestingly, it remains to be seen whether Rahul takes the election route or seeks nomination considering he had for long been pitching for elections within the party fold. In fact, he has been pushing to build an open organisation wherein leaders in the Youth Congress and NSUI would be directly elected rather than appointed or nominated.
But the question remains who would take on Rahul if he decides to get elected to the post of party president?