Rahul may become Congress president on 5 December. His first challenge: Gujarat polls
After months of speculation, the stage is now set for Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi to take over as the party president from his mother Sonia Gandhi who has held the post for nearly two decades.
On Monday, the party's highest decision making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), met and passed the resolution to elevate the 47-year-old Amethi MP. He is most likely to take over the grand old party by 5 December.
During the course of the meeting, the CWC approved the election schedule for the post of the president which mentions 4 December as the last date for filing nominations. A day later, on 5 December, all nominations would be scrutinised after which the elections, if necessary, would be held on 16 December while the results would be announced on 19 December.
However, it is unlikely that anyone from the party would contest against the Gandhi scion which means that he could be elected unopposed on 5 December when nomination papers are to be scrutinised.
Having been forced by the Election Commission to complete the process of internal elections, the party will hold elections for the first time in the last seven years.
Rahul taking over as Congress President was a foregone conclusion and it was just a matter of time before he took full control of party affairs. Having been serving as the party vice-president since January 13, Rahul had begun to exert control over the party by infusing young blood in key positions. He has been instrumental in bringing about a right balance of youth and experience which has begun to pay dividends for the grand old party.
Meanwhile, sources have informed that the CWC was of the view that Rahul's elevation could help the party in the upcoming Gujarat elections and galvanise support in the party's favour. The Congress party is looking to end BJP's 22 year rule in Gujarat and for the first time, the party appears to offer a serious challenge to the ruling BJP.
Rahul's popularity in the poll bound state where he is repeatedly raking up the twin evils of demonetisation and GST has hit the right chord with the voters which has worried BJP's top strategists. Even his role in bringing together young leaders, who have raised the banner of revolt against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is most likely to translate into votes for Congress.
In these circumstances, if the Congress manages to topple BJP's apple-cart in Gujarat, it would be a huge boost for the grand old party and Rahul will most likely be credited for such a turnaround. In fact, his biggest challenge will be to successfully stitch a political alliance in Gujarat with the anti-BJP forces. This attempt has hit a rough patch after the party announced its first list of 77 candidates for the polls.
The Developments in Gujarat
Earlier on Sunday, soon after the Congress announced its first list, the members of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) attacked party offices in Ahmedabad and Surat, among other cities, for not getting proper representation as promised by the Congress. PAAS leader Hardik Patel had reached an agreement with the Congress on Sunday over their demands for reservation for Patels which was later confirmed by Congress state president Bharatsinh Solanki.
What has miffed the PAAS leadership is the fact that they have not been given 20 seats as promised by the Congress leaders. In fact, the party's first list has as many as 22 Patels, including two from PAAS, which has not gone down well with the Patidar leadership. It is for this reason that PAAS is threatening to withdraw support to the Congress and instead protest against the alleged betrayal.
The two PAAS leaders – Lalit Vasoya from Dhoraji and Amit Thummar from Junagadh– who have been allotted Congress tickets were asked by PAAS to not file nomination. However, they defied their leadership and went ahead with it which has created a divide among the Patidars.
PAAS leader Hardik Patel even cancelled his rally in Rajkot where he was expected to announce a possible alliance with the Congress. In fact, Hardik took to Twitter to express his angst.
सियासत की रंगत में ना डूबो इतना,— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) November 20, 2017
कि वीरों की शहादत भी नजर ना आए,
जरा सा याद कर लो अपने वायदे जुबान को,
गर तुम्हे अपनी जुबां का कहा याद आए.
However, he later tweeted a video calling for unity among Patidars and criticised those who are targeting him for aligning with the Congress.
મારા માટે નહિ સમાજ અને શહીદ પરિવારો માટે સાથે રહેવું પડશે..૧૪યુવાનો ની શહીદી અને અત્યાચાર ના ભૂલો!! pic.twitter.com/a52PYajz1Y— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) November 20, 2017
“Our elders were right that Patels cannot come together. When Alpesh Thakor joined Congress, no one from his community questioned him. When Jignesh Mevani met Rahul Gandhi, no one from his community attacked him. But when our brother (Hardik) met Congress for the rights of our community, a few Patidars are criticising him. They should be ashamed,” the video said.
Meanwhile, in yet another setback for the Congress, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has decided to contest all 182 seats in Gujarat ending the possibility of an alliance with the main Opposition party. The talks between the two parties failed after the Congress didn't agree to NCP's demand for a higher number of seats.
In fact, the Congress in its first list of 77 also named candidates for seats which were demanded by the NCP. Interestingly, the Congress fielded candidate from Kutiyana constituency which has NCP's Kandhal Jadeja as the sitting MLA. Sources had informed that the Congress was not very keen on having an alliance with NCP after the latter “back-stabbed” the party during Ahmed Patel's Rajya Sabha election.
Having been in alliance with the Congress both at the Centre and state levels for more than a decade, the NCP decided to vote in favour of the BJP candidate during the Rajya Sabha polls which irked the state and central leadership of the Congress. Though the NCP contesting on all seats is not very encouraging for the Congress considering it will split the anti-BJP votes, the grand old party doesn’t seem too concerned.
Sonia Gandhi attacks Modi
In other developments, Congress President Sonia Gandhi came down heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of casting a dark shadow on India's Parliamentary democracy by sabotaging the Winter Session of Parliament on flimsy grounds.
In her opening address at the CWC meeting, she said, “The government is mistaken if it thinks that by locking the temple of democracy, it will escape constitutional accountability ahead of the assembly elections. Parliament is the forum in which questions should be asked – questions about corruption in high places, conflict of interest of serving ministers and dubious defense deals. The government will be obliged to answer these questions, but in order to avoid the questions and answer ahead of Gujarat elections, the government has taken the extraordinary step of not holding a winter session when should be held.”
Further, she lambasted the prime minister for having the audacity to have a midnight celebration in Parliament to launch GST while lacking courage to face Parliament. She further highlighted how the ruling dispensation is forcefully trying to systematically erase the contributions made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi through rewriting school books and through malicious misinformation and propaganda. “This vilification is blatant and for all to see,” she said.