The speculation over Rahul Gandhi taking over as Congress president intensified after party's top decision making body on Monday unanimously requested him to take the mantle from his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi. Though the request of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) has been conveyed to Sonia, the timing of such a move is still shrouded in mystery as it was a year ago.
The party's apex decision making body has given its nod for Rahul to take over, but the final decision rests with the Congress president who is yet to give an official approval for the same. If she follows the CWC recommendations, Rahul would be the fifth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family to become the party chief.
The delay in naming Rahul as party chief has yet again raised question marks on whether the Gandhi scion is keen on taking over from his mother before the crucial assembly polls next year. With the party not expected to do too well in most of these states, Rahul will have to take the blame for the loss which might witness a further dip in his popularity not only amongs the electorate but also party cadres.
In these circumstances, it is best suited for him to wait till the results of Assembly elections before taking a final plunge. A section of Congress leaders too believe that Sonia should stay on as the party chief till the Assembly elections in five states, including UP and Punjab, to avoid any distraction among workers.
However, a CWC member, who was present during the meeting, dismissed these rumors and said he could take over anytime now. "It could happen tomorrow or within this week, but it will happen very soon," said a CWC member.
During the course of the meeting Congress leaders Ambika Soni and Gurudas Kamat said that Rahul should take over today itself. Responding to it senior leader Karan Singh asked Rahul to wait since Sonia was not present and such crucial decision should not be taken in her absence.
Amid these speculations, the decision to appoint Rahul as party chief has been left to Sonia and senior leaders of CWC conveyed their desire to the party president after Monday's meeting.
Interestingly, the high profile meeting of senior Congress leaders also gave one year extension to Sonia and deferred the organisational elections by a year. The Congress president called in sick for Monday's meet forcing Rahul to chair the meeting in her absence.
Having been the longest serving party president of the grand old party, Sonia holds the record for being the Congress chief for the last 18 years. She replaced Sitaram Kesari in 1998 and remained the undisputed leader of the party till the demand for Rahul to take over gained momentum.
This is the first formal CWC meeting chaired by the party vice president - he did chair an informal meeting in February 2014.
During the course of Monday's meeting, CWC members claimed that to fight and mobilise support against the dictatorial rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the time is right for the Gandhi scion to take over the reigns of the party.
Speaking to media, senior leader and CWC member, AK Antony said, "It is high time the Congress mobilises all the forces to fight against the anti-people and dictatorial policy of the Modi government and also the RSS, Sangh Parivar and BJP's policy of communal polarization and destruction of peace and social harmony in the country. So, members feel that Shri Rahul Gandhiji must take up the leadership for this fight."
It was Antony who first proposed Rahul to take over as party chief and then the rest of the CWC members reiterated his plea. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh concluded the decision and batted for Rahul to take up the post of party chief.
Congress attacks Modi govt
On his part, Rahul said he would abide by the decision of the party and CWC and be ready to take on every such challenge. Earlier in the day, the meeting began with Rahul's opening remarks wherein he accused the government for being obsessed with power and hiding behind the cloak of national security while intimidating the civil society for asking questions.
One of the 33 members who spoke during the meeting, Rahul also raised the issue of government's ban on NDTV Indiafor a day and said that television channels are being banned and asked to shut down. "Democracy, under the present dispensation, is going through one of its darkest hours. All attempts by this government to suppress our fundamental freedoms by abusing State power will only strengthen our resolve to defeat such dangerous designs," he told those present.
He added the party would continue to expose the failures of the government especially in the upcoming Winter Session of the Parliament beginning 16 November. Yet again raising the One Rank One Pension (OROP) issue, Rahul accused the "callous" government of cruelly rewarding the jawans by denying OROP and shrinking their disability pension.
Lashing out at the BJP, Rahul said that in the upcoming state elections, the Modi government will launch a campaign of disinformation and polarisation. "They will exploit caste and religious fault lines. We must anticipate and neutralise such devious strategies," he added.
Except for this, the CWC passed resolutions on the prevailing political and economic situation in the country; centenary birth anniversary of former prime minister Indira Gandhi; and on the martyrdom of 19 Indian soldiers during the Uri attacks.
Speaking on the resolutions passed by CWC, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, said, "Resolution condemning the statements made by ministers of ruling party (surgical strikes happened for the first time) was also passed. Resolution was passed in CWC meet requesting government to take strict action against perpetrators of Uri and other terrorist attacks."
Talking about the contentious issue, Surjewala said, "Modi government diluted actual OROP introduced by our government and implemented it as one rank many pensions."
The Prashant Kishor question
Even poll strategist Prashant Kishor's name came up during the meeting with UP in-charge Ghulam Nabi Azad and state President Raj Babbar seeking termination of his contract at the earliest.
But senior leader Anand Sharma, who was a special invitee, said the party should continue with the strategist and that his role should be specifically defined.
Leaders of UP's state unit have been miffed with Kishor holding discussions with Samajwadi Party leaders on pre-poll alliance which has not gone down well with the party leadership. Babbar has accused Kishor of acting on his own and exceeding his brief as a campaign strategist.
In fact, on Monday, Kishor met UP CM Akhilesh Yadav yet again fuelling rumours of Congress seeking an alliance with SP.