The Congress on Friday decided that it will elect a new party president in June this year, and Sonia Gandhi will stay on as the interim party chief for the five state assembly elections to be held by May.
The decision to further delay the elections for the top party post was taken at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, where an argument reportedly erupted between two groups. AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, however, denied these reports and said senior leaders only wanted more "clarity" on the schedule.
“The CWC unanimously decided that the new elected Congress president should be in place by June 2021. The CWC considered the election schedule of May 29 proposed by the central election authority and unanimously agreed to extend the schedule until June as counting for five state elections could be happening in May,” he said.
Sources said that while senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and P Chidambaram asked for immediate organisational polls, Gandhi family loyalists like Ashok Gehlot, Amarinder Singh and AK Antony said the elections should be held after the assembly polls.
The second group eventually prevailed as the Congress, which was earlier expected to hold the presidential elections by February, further delayed the polls. The next Congress president will be chosen at a time when the leadership of the Gandhis has come under unprecedented scrutiny, leading to attacks within.
At the meeting, it is learnt that a senior leader belonging to the Gandhi camp ticked off the "dissenters" without naming them and said the party should be talking about fighting elections against the BJP, and not internal elections. "We should leave the party matters and decisions to the party president,” this leader said.
At this, Sharma retorted saying Gehlot had been “disrespectful of people who have raised demands about the need for reforms”.
But party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also denied any dissenting notes on the holding of elections. "There was no dissent at the meeting." He added that leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma or P Chidambaram were not dissenters but senior members of the Congress party and were all unanimous in deciding to extend the election schedule a little.
Sonia Gandhi took over as interim Congress president in August 2019 after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the wake of the party's Lok Sabha debacle in May 2019. There have been demands from a section of the Congress leaders for having a full-time and active party president and an organisational overhaul.
The CWC had in its earlier meeting decided to hold organisational elections, following a storm in the party in August last year over a letter to Sonia Gandhi by a group of 23 leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Mukul Wasnik raising these issues. Sonia Gandhi had last month met some of these 'letter-writers' and discussed the issues raised by them.