Party hands Sonia Rahul's name

By: The Telegraph, Calcutta
Updated: 08 Nov 2016 09:54 AM

New Delhi: The Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday initiated a process to appoint Rahul Gandhi as party president by formally conveying to Sonia Gandhi the need to promote him for confronting what it describes as the divisive agenda of the RSS.

As Sonia's health keeps her away from regular political engagements, the CWC members today asked Rahul to take over, in a way formally endorsing the transition long in the making.

Although Rahul did not respond, the CWC decided to communicate the "unanimous sentiment" to Sonia.

Such vital decisions aren't taken in the Congress without planning. The fact that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made this proposal and A.K. Antony seconded it suggested the execution of a calibrated strategy by Sonia loyalists.

Rahul's aides expressed surprise at the "unplanned" development, indicating that the move was scripted by Sonia in consultation with her trusted lieutenants.

Sonia herself chose not to attend the meeting, with party sources saying she avoided an outing in the toxic Delhi weather because of bronchial complaints in the past. Others said she preferred to stay away from the meeting that would extend her tenure and propose her son's name as successor. With the CWC resolution, it is up to Sonia to appoint Rahul at the time of her choosing.

Sonia may still prefer to wait and opt for a process that brings greater legitimacy than appointing him through an executive order.

Asked about the future course, a source said: "It is difficult to guess the timeline and the process of announcement but it is indisputable that Rahul is now closer to the Congress presidency, probably just a step away. It should happen soon, probably this year itself. He has, anyway, been the functional head for quite some time."

Younger leaders close to Rahul saw the step as a significant development because it finally removed doubts about the eventuality of his ascendance. "We are under one umbrella now. The veterans have endorsed his takeover. The old guard has laid the path for the new journey. The silent facilitation of transition will ensure a unity of purpose. There is no surprise in this but this does bring a lot of relief," a young leader said.

The party, however, will still be writing to the Election Commission for more time to complete the organisational polls and for extension of Sonia's term, which is a legal formality. The CWC cleared a proposal to ask for a year's time but that does not mean Rahul cannot take over before that.

Before the chorus for takeover, Rahul launched a scathing attack on the Narendra Modi government, alleging that democracy was passing through one of its darkest hours.

"The government is obsessed with power, it seeks to silence all those who disagree. Hiding behind the cloak of national security, civil society is being intimidated for asking questions. Television channels are being punished and asked to shut down. The Opposition is being arrested for holding the government to account," Rahul said.

Pointing out that farmers, Dalits, tribals and the poor were the most affected by the BJP's policies, Rahul said: "Asking questions is what discomforts this government the most, for they have no answers. There is another disturbing trend. BJP-ruled states are actively diluting and undermining laws passed by Parliament. The land acquisition act and now the real estate legislation are cases in point. The government is lobbying with states via informal channels to deny work under the MGNREGA (the rural job scheme)."

Rahul referred to Modi's swings on Pakistan and "the raw deal" given to soldiers.

The Congress leader cautioned against the "devious strategies" to communalise voters in election-bound states. He also asked the party to expose the comprehensive failure of the government at the halfway mark of its tenure.

The CWC adopted a resolution criticising the government's performance, particularly deploring the attempt to whip up hysteria and create divisions in the polity on patriotism on which the whole nation stood united.

"The CWC regrets the misleading statements made by ministers that this was the first time that the Indian Army had taken action across the border against potential terrorists. This is an insult to the Indian Army which had, on several occasions in the past, firmly dealt with terrorists and infiltrators and secured the LoC and the International Border," the resolution added.

The party requested the government to give up its crude attempts to gain political advantage out of an essentially military action. "False claims, chest-thumping and jingoism have no place in a mature democracy, especially on matters concerning the defence of the country," the resolution said, and asked for fulfilling the promise on one rank, one pension.

The resolution condemned a deliberate creation of fear psychosis among the minorities, the attack on the judiciary, the violence in Jammu and Kashmir, ceasefire violations across the border and rising prices and expressed concern over economic parameters.

"The CWC associates itself with the concerns of the citizens and the media over growing intolerance, centralisation of authority, arbitrary and partisan decisions, abuse of power and misuse of government agencies to target political opponents, critics and institutions," it added.