The Congress election to choose a new president is the first in more than 20 years where no one from the Gandhi family is in the running. But apparently, they have not been entirely hands off. Sources say Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, contrary to public perception, is taking an active interest in the election.
Rahul Gandhi, who stepped down from the top post after the party’s crushing defeat in two consecutive general elections, has refused to contest, making the election necessary. Sources said he was also insistent that his mother and sister stay away from the party polls.
Senior leaders in the party, who wish to see an organisational overhaul, however, talk of Ms Gandhi Vadra’s role in the election.
The 50-year-old who joined the party in January 2019 and was named its general secretary in Uttar Pradesh, is attempting to ensure a suitable candidate is found for the post of president, they said.
That search got tougher with the crisis in Rajasthan, in which MLAs loyal to Mr Gehlot threatened to resign if their say regarding the state’s next chief minister was not accepted. Mr Gehlot, a longtime loyalist of the Gandhi family, was the frontrunner in the election where his rival was Shashi Tharoor.
With the Gandhis hugely upset by the public “humiliation” of the party and Mr Gehlot’s role, the Rajasthan Chief Minister met Sonia Gandhi with a profuse apology this evening and declared that he would not participate in the Congress election.
Sources claimed it was Ms Gandhi Vadra’s involvement in Rajasthan, meant to install Sachin Pilot in the top post, as precipitated the crisis in the state.
Two years ago, when Sachin Pilot had rebelled, Ms Gandhi Vadra had helped defuse the crisis through her intervention. This time, she wanted Mr Pilot to get a chance head the government and lead it to next year’s assembly elections.
While one section in the party has been insistent that Rahul Gandhi lead them, there is another that is keen that Ms Gandhi Vadra contest the internal election for the party chief’s post, sources said.
When Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the party chief’s post in 2019, he had made it clear to the Congress that it should not look at the Gandhi family for leadership and find a replacement from the ranks.
Sources said he had also explicitly asked leaders not to consider his mother and sister as his replacement. “Do not drag my sister into it… “It is not necessary that the president should be from Gandhi family,” he had said at one of the many party meetings held to persuade him to reconsider his decision.
Eventually, Sonia Gandhi had to take over as the interim president as the many leaders insisted that the Congress will be further weakened if a Gandhi was not at the helm.
But it has not checked the downward spiral. Over the last three years, the Congress lost a string of state elections. Many key leaders headed for the exit as the organisational elections were postponed repeatedly.
Since Independence, the Congress has been led mostly by members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Under the rare non-Gandhi chief, like Sitaram Kesri, its performance has been lacklustre. Mrs Gandhi had taken over from Sitaram Kesri in March 1998 – two years after the Narasimha Rao government was voted out, when the party was in one of its lowest points.