Congress president Sonia Gandhi kicked off a series of meetings on December 19 to be held over the next ten days with senior party leaders to elect the new Congress chief.
The dissenters group (G-23) met Sonia on Saturday amidst talks of a change in leadership of the grand old party.
AK Antony, Ashok Gehlot, P. Chidambaram and Ambika Soni were among the loyalists who attended the meeting. Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Vivek Tankha, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari and Bhupinder Singh Hooda from the dissenters' camp too attended the meet.
According to the truce formula worked out between the Gandhi family and the rebels in August, an AICC session needs to be held by February 2021 to elect a new Congress president.
Sonia’s fragile health and dismal performance of the party in Bihar, GHMC, Rajasthan and Kerala local body elections shows the party is in urgent need of a new president at the helm of affairs to face elections to five states in 2021.
The Congress doesn’t have a lot of time as alliances need to be finalized and strategy chalked out for these polls.
Who could be the next Congress President?
A day before the meeting Congress media-in-charge Randeep Surjewala held a press conference stating 99.99% of Congress workers want Rahul Gandhi as president.
As per reports, Rahul is yet not keen to make a comeback unless given sweeping powers to make changes in the organisational structure.
The G-23 could push for a candidate from their side considering successive failures of the Gandhi family to win elections for the party.
Their reasoning is that in an era where there is growing apathy of the public towards political dynasties this could be a better strategy to divert attention away from the Gandhis and rob Modi of kaamadr versus naamdar jibe.
If a compromise formula is not worked out then Sonia could continue till December 2022, this would require amendment to the party Constitution.
So here are the contenders for the Congress president’s post:
1. Rahul Gandhi
Ex-Congress president and son of Rajiv and Sonia is the frontrunner for the post despite being in a denial model. His biggest asset is that he belongs to the Gandhi family and enjoys its legacy. He is relatively young and has good support among the rank and file.
However, he is criticised for his part-time politics and reliance on non-politicians for strategy. A large section of political analysts, however, feels that he is not fit for the job and can’t revive the party.
2. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
General secretary and in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, there is a big section in Congress party which wants her to be given one chance after Rahul’s failure. Her resemblance to Indira Gandhi could be useful in developing a loyal women vote bank.
Women voters increasingly voting on their own with high turnouts is assuming significance. Her push for Congress in UP has grabbed media headlines though the party couldn’t win a single seat.
She comes however with a baggage of husband Robert Vadra, who BJP could target on corruption matters.
3. Ashok Gehlot
The current chief minister of Rajasthan is the one of the strongest mass leaders the party has beside the Gandhis. He belongs to the OBC community and could help the party woo this important vote block nationally which is 41% of the population.
He is a strong organisation man with proven resource raising capabilities. He successfully thwarted the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to pull down his government in Rajasthan. He is a politician who can match BJP’s tricks.
He as in-charge of elections in Gujarat gave a scare to the BJP in the 2017 state elections. Moving him to the Centre also solves the Rajasthan issue for the party. They can then nominate Sachin Pilot as chief minister in the state.
4. Mukul Wasnik
General secretary of the All India Congress Committee, Wasnik from Maharashtra holds the record for youngest Parliamentarian at the age of 25.
He belongs to the Scheduled Caste community and making him the President will send a strong message to the Dalits who were traditional voters of the party but have now slipped to BJP and regional parties.
He also has a rich organisational experience. However, he lacks the ‘X’ factor of Gandhis and Gehlot. His appointment may not enthuse rank and file of the party. He was one of the signatories to the letter and officially belongs to the rebel camp, though he shares excellent rapport with the Gandhis and was considered as a loyalist at one point of time.
5. Dark horse
If the party doesn’t finalise any of the above then it could look for somebody from the South of India. The name of K C Venugopal, general secretary of the organisation, is also doing the rounds.
He is considered close to the Gandhis and can be appointed if the family wishes to elect a proxy. He belongs to Kerala from where the party has the maximum number of MPs in Lok Sabha.
The name of Kamal Nath has also appeared in the press, but he is well past his prime having been foxed by the BJP in Madhya Pradesh into losing his government. Age is also not on his side.
Captain Amarinder Singh is not in the good books of the Gandhis. Siddaramaiah from Karnataka is a realpolitik leader but may not want to come out of the state. He doesn’t enjoy pan-India appeal.
The dark horse’s name is very difficult to guess.
The Congress needs to sort out its differences soon and put its house in order as elections to five states are slated to take place in April-May of this year.