NEW DELHI — As the Aug. 11 evening wore on into the night, Sonia Gandhi's coterie trumped Rahul Gandhi's Young Turk to appoint her as the interim Congress president.
After day-long deliberations, the Congress party failed to name a party leader from outside the Gandhi family. The Congress Working Committee finally accepted Rahul's resignation.
Sonia Gandhi, who is ailing and had stepped down as party president in December 2017, is again to head the grand old party. Her name was announced at the CWC meeting, which ended its deliberations after more than two hours, in its second meeting of the day.
With all the five party sub-groups unitedly proposing Rahul Gandhi's name as party chief, and Rahul refusing to go back on his decision, the mantle fell on Sonia Gandhi again to shepherd the party as an interim measure.
Randeep Singh Surjewala, the Congress communications in-charge and CWC member, said the party decided on Sonia Gandhi's name as it wanted a strong leadership, one whose command would be accepted by all.
Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said the CWC "unanimously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi to take over as the Interim President, pending the election of a regular president by the AICC."
Earlier, the CWC decided that Rahul Gandhi "should continue as Congress president, as desired by all who were consulted today, and requested him to accept this decision.” However, Rahul "declined to withdraw his resignation.”
The CWC also put on record "its profound sense of appreciation and gratitude for the exceptional leadership provided by Rahul Gandhi as president.”
"He led the party with unbounded pride, determination and dedication. He campaigned in the assembly and national elections with indefatigable energy. He stood up fearlessly on issues of day-to-day concern to kisans, khet mazdoors, workers, traders and small businesses, youth, women, minorities, Dalits and adivasis and the weaker sections of society.”
"He raised his voice boldly against the growing atmosphere of fear and intimidation in our country. These issues continue to be of significant relevance irrespective of the electoral verdict of May 2019," it said, in an attack on the Narendra Modi government.
It said that Rahul's gave the Congress "a new sense of aggression and modernity to the party organization and opened up numerous opportunities to the younger generation.”
"He emerged as a beacon of hope for the very large number of people who cherish the idea of India on which our freedom movement and the Constitution was anchored. He came to be seen as a bulwark against the forces of hate, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and divisiveness."
On his resignation, owning up responsibility for the party's poor showing in the elections, it said that it was evidence of Rahul's "instinctive moral compass" setting new standards of accountability in public life.”
"The CWC applauds his courage, commitment and conviction in stepping down as Congress president which was a deeply personal decision. Each and every Congressman and woman looks to him for continued support and guidance," the CWC said.
Anand Singh of IANS adds: The specter of a split in the country's oldest political party was looming at the Congress Working Committee meeting as leaders got emotional at the mention of a non-Gandhi to lead the Congress.
It had to be a Gandhi, and no one else. Some leaders even threatened to sit at home rather than attend party meetings under a non-Gandhi.
That decided the matter, and party seniors, including Ahmed Patel, approached Sonia Gandhi to lead the party yet again.
Sonia Gandhi, who has not been keeping good health, was surprised at the CWC recommending her name as interim president.
"You have suddenly come up with this idea. I am not ready for it," she told the party leaders, according to a senior leader who was present at the deliberations.
"Sonia Gandhi was not ready to accept the post of interim president," the leader told IANS, not wishing to be named.
"But she was convinced after a number of them told her that the party will split if the Gandhi family leaves the helm at this crucial juncture," the leader added.
None of the leaders was prepared to accept the name of a non-Gandhi as president. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar declared that he would prefer to remain at home than accept a non-Gandhi as party president.
"Jakhar's opinion was supported by many others who told the CWC members that the names of those leaders doing the rounds as party chief were not acceptable to them," the leader told IANS.
Another Punjab party leader, Pratap Singh Bajwa, told the CWC that if any non-Gandhi comes to occupy top post, "then many senior leaders will leave the party and join other parties.”
The name of Priyanka Gandhi was discussed besides that of Rahul Gandhi.
"When the name of Priyanka Gandhi was suggested, she herself objected to it, saying it is not possible," the party leader said.
It was Priyanka Gandhi who backed her brother Rahul Gandhi on his decision to stick to his resignation as party president despite all the five sub-groups recommending that he continue as the Congress chief.
After the morning CWC, the party members again requested Rahul Gandhi to take back his resignation. But he refused.
At that time, Jyotiraditya Scindia requested Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his decision to step down, to which he replied that he was not escaping from responsibilities but would work with more dedication for the party under a new president.