India: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi holds on after dissent letter

Main opposition party rejects her request to be allowed to step down, after a rare challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Rahul and Sonia Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi took over a de facto leadership of the Congress party last year from son Rahul [File: Altaf Hussain/Reuters]

Indian politician Sonia Gandhi will continue to lead the main opposition Congress as its “interim” president, the party said following a stormy seven-hour meeting of its top leaders in the capital, New Delhi.

“The CWC [Congress Working Committee] unanimously requests Sonia Gandhi to continue to lead the Indian National Congress until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC [All India Congress Committee] session to be convened,” the party tweeted on Monday.

In dramatic developments during the Congress meeting, Italian-born Sonia Gandhi had asked the party to “relieve her from the duty of party president” and look for a replacement, local media reports said.

Her offer to quit came after almost two dozen Congress leaders called for better decision-making in the party.

Two party sources said the signatories to the letter expected the Gandhi family to either play a proactive role or step down, adding that more than 300 regional Congress politicians also supported the letter.

It was a rare challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi family, which produced three Indian prime ministers and has dominated the party for much of the country’s independent history.

Sonia Gandhi, 73, is the widow of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Their parliamentarian son Rahul Gandhi had also served as the Congress president.

However, towards the end of Monday’s meeting, Sonia Gandhi’s offer to resign was rejected by the CWC, which wanted Gandhi and her son, Rahul, to remain in control.

“The CWC, reflecting the overwhelming view and desire of the rank and file of the Congress, unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way,” KC Venugopal, a Congress legislator, told a news conference.

It was not clear whether an election would take place but Congress politicians hope to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take up the post, even though the 50-year-leader has appeared reluctant on returning as party chief.

In her closing remarks, Sonia Gandhi is reported to have asked the party to “move on” and that she held “no ill will” towards the leaders who had signed the letter of dissent.

“We are a large family, we have differences on many occasions but in the end, we come together as one. The need of the hour is to fight for the cause of the people and forces that are failing this country,” she told her party, according to a news briefing addressed by a Congress spokesman.

In recent years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has dealt the Congress party consecutive defeats in the national polls in 2014 and 2019.

While the Congress managed to win a mere 44-seats in the 543-member parliament in 2014, last year polls did not see any revival in its fortunes and the party secured just 52 seats.

The party now controls just a handful of India’s 28 states.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies