The congressional election to choose a new president is the first in more than 20 years in which no one from the Gandhi family is in the running. But apparently, they haven’t been entirely on the sidelines. Sources say that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, contrary to public perception, is taking an active interest in the election.
Rahul Gandhi, who resigned from the highest office after the party’s landslide defeat in two consecutive general elections, has refused to run, making the election necessary. The sources said that he also insisted that his mother and his sister stay away from party polls.
However, top party leaders, who want to see an organizational overhaul, speak of Ms. Gandhi Vadra’s role in the election.
The 50-year-old who joined the party in January 2019 and was appointed as its general secretary in Uttar Pradesh, is trying to ensure a suitable candidate is found for the post of president, they said.
That search was made more difficult by the crisis in Rajasthan, in which MLAs loyal to Gehlot threatened to resign if his views on the state’s next head of government were not accepted. Gehlot, a longtime Gandhi family loyalist, was the favorite in the election where his rival was Shashi Tharoor.
With the Gandhi greatly upset by the public “humiliation” of the party and Mr. Gehlot’s role, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan met with Sonia Gandhi with a profuse apology tonight and declared that he would not take part in the Congress election.
The sources claimed that it was Mrs. Gandhi Vadra’s involvement in Rajasthan, aimed at installing Sachin Pilot in the top post, that precipitated the crisis in the state.
Two years ago, when Sachin Pilot rebelled, Mrs. Gandhi Vadra helped defuse the crisis with her intervention. This time, she wanted Mr. Pilot to have a chance to head the government and lead him to next year’s assembly elections.
While one section of the party has insisted that Rahul Gandhi lead them, there is another that is interested in Ms. Gandhi Vadra standing in the internal elections for the post of party chief, the sources said.
When Rahul Gandhi stepped down as party chief in 2019, he made it clear to Congress that it should not look to the Gandhi family for leadership and find a replacement through the ranks.
The sources said that he had also explicitly asked the leaders not to consider his mother and sister as his replacement. “Don’t bring my sister into this…” The president need not be from the Gandhi family, he had said at one of the many party meetings held to persuade him to reconsider his decision.
Ultimately, Sonia Gandhi had to take over as interim president, as many leaders insisted that Congress will be further weakened if a Gandhi is not at the helm.
But it has not stopped the downward spiral. In the past three years, Congress has lost a series of statewide elections. Many key leaders headed for the exit as organizational elections were repeatedly postponed.
Since Independence, Congress has been led primarily by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Under the rare non-Gandhi boss like Sitaram Kesri, his performance has been lackluster. Gandhi had taken over from Sitaram Kesri in March 1998, two years after Narasimha Rao’s government had been ousted, when the party was at one of its lowest points.
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