New Delhi, Aug 24 (PTI) After a marathon seven-hour-long meeting marked by high drama, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday decided that Sonia Gandhi will continue as the party's interim president and effect necessary organisational changes while an AICC session will be called at the earliest to start the process of electing a new chief.
In her opening remarks at the party's highest decision-making body, Sonia Gandhi, who was made the party's interim chief a year ago following resignation of her son Rahul Gandhi from the post, offered to quit in the wake of a letter written by over 20 leaders, who had demanded sweeping organisational reforms, a collective leadership and an 'active, full-time and visible' president.
Though a large section of the leaders backed Sonia Gandhi and requested here to stay on to lead the grand old party, there was a high-drama at the meeting held over video conferencing -- tweets were posted and deleted, insinuation of the BJP connection behind the letter were reportedly made and officially denied by the Congress.
Soon after the CWC meeting ended and the resolution made there was released to the media at a hurriedly called press conference, some signatories of the letter assembled at senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad's house and discussed the outcome of the meeting. Sources said these leaders, which included Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari and Mukul Wasnikm discussed the CWC meeting outcome but none of them agreed to talk about their deliberations.
The party said the CWC unanimously urged Sonia Gandhi to stay on as the party chief till a new president is appointed and authorised her to bring about organisational changes to take on the challenges within.
The CWC also resolved that the process of selecting the new Congress president and convening an AICC (All India Congress Committee) session be started at the earliest possible time.
In her concluding remarks, Sonia agreed to continue but said this arrangement cannot remain 'open ended', as the new party chief has to be selected soon.
She also said that she does not hold anything or any kind of 'ill-will' against any of her colleagues irrespective of how hurtful were the remarks made by them.
Gandhi said she considers everyone part of the Congress family, which may have differences, but it should remain together to fight for the cause of the people. Targeting the NDA government, she said the need of the hour is to fight against those who are failing the country.
Rahul Gandhi, sources said, suggested formation of a committee to assist the Congress chief. When asked, K C Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala said the Congress chief has been authorised by the CWC to initiate changes in the party.
Announcing the CWC resolution, Venugopal and Surjewala said the CWC unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way. The party also made it clear that no one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership.
The CWC also resolved that inner-party issues cannot be deliberated through the media or in public fora and all such issues must be raised within the party 'in the interest of propriety and discipline'.
At the meeting, former prime minister Manmohan Singh led the demand for Sonia Gandhi continuing as Congress president and leader after leader echoed him while attacking the letter writers, particularly Ghulam Nabi Azad, the senior-most signatory and a CWC member.
As the CWC discussed the pivotal leadership issue, the faultlines were clear and appeared to deepen at some points as the day progressed. The writers of the letter were isolated and came under attack.
The meeting was attended by over 50 leaders, including four Congress chief ministers.
P Chidambaram suggested holding of a virtual AICC session to start the process of holding elections for a new party chief, a demand which was supported by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, but it was shot down as 'not plausible'.
Former president Rahul Gandhi, it is learnt, launched a sharp attack against the signatories of the letter, questioning their timing as well as the fact they went public with their grievances. He also rued the fact that the letter - seeking sweeping changes to the party organisation and elections to the CWC -- was written when Sonia Gandhi was in hospital and the party was battling a political crisis in Rajasthan. He said Sonia Gandhi had accepted charge as the party president only after the CWC last year urged her to take the responsibility.
'It is the CWC and not the media, where we voice our grievances and discuss issues,' a source quoted Rahul Gandhi as telling the CWC members. Sources also said that some felt Rahul insinuated that the letter would help the BJP.
Earlier in the day, Kapil Sibal, senior leader and one of the signatories of the letter, created a flutter when he hit out at Rahul Gandhi on Twitter for a purported remark about the BJP.
Sibal, who is not a part of the CWC, withdrew his tweet a little later. The Congress also officially denied that Rahul Gandhi had accused any party leader of 'colluding with the BJP'.
Azad, too, attempted to set the record straight, saying a section of the media was 'wrongly attributing' that he told Rahul Gandhi in the CWC meeting to prove that the letter written by them was in collusion with BJP.
'Let me make it very clear that Shri Rahul Gandhi has neither in CWC nor outside said that this letter was written at the behest of BJP,' Azad later tweeted.
Former defence minister A K Antony termed the letter 'cruel', while his colleague Ambika Soni described the missive as unfortunate and said the party had given Azad a lot. She also demanded action against the leaders writing the letter, saying the rule should be uniformly applied for all.
Sources said Azad offered to resign at the meeting amid questions being raised on the letter, its timing and its leakage to the media.
Sonia Gandhi also referred to Azad twice in her opening remarks, saying he had even sent a reminder to his letter, sources said. The Congress chief said she had given her reply to Venugopal expressing her desire to be relieved of the post and that the party should initiate the process to find her replacement.
While most leaders backed Sonia's continuation as party chief, there were some who proposed Rahul Gandhi's return as the president, sources added. PTI SKC ASK PYK SKC BJ BJ