NEW DELHI -- Rahul Gandhi's appointment as Congress president today appeared imminent with members of the Congress Working Committee, its highest decision making body, unanimously voicing "strong sentiment" for his elevation for the first time at a meeting which Sonia Gandhi gave a miss.
It was party veteran A K Antony who set the ball rolling at the meeting, which lasted for four hours, when he spoke about the need for Rahul to take over the mantle of the 130-year-old party from her mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. All other members, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh followed suit.
"Members unanimously expressed their strong sentiment that accepting the wishes of crores of Congress workers and well wishers, Rahul Gandhi take over as the president of the Congress party", Antony told reporters while briefing on the deliberations.
Antony said all members including Manmohan Singh, insisted it was "high time" Rahul took over as party chief and the Congress mobilised "all forces" to take on "anti-people and dictatorial" policies of the Modi government.
Rahul, who presided over the meeting as Sonia Gandhi was reportedly indisposed, said he was ready to accept whatever responsibility is bestowed upon him by the Congress president and the CWC, in "fighting for the idea of India."
At the briefing, both Antony and chief party spokesman Randeep Surjewala evaded questions as to when exactly Rahul would take over the reins of the party from his mother and whether it would happen on November 19, the day the AICC has organised a grand celebration on the birth centenary of Indira Gandhi.
"We are very hopeful", a senior party leader said when asked whether the elevation would happen before UP assembly polls.
Sonia Gandhi has created a record by being at the helm of the 130-year-old organisation since early 1998 succeeding the late Sitaram Kesri who was ousted by the CWC.
"It is for the first time that the CWC is making such a recommendation. We are sure that the Congress President would give it proper care and attention", Antony said replying to a volley of questions on the issue.
Surjewala said senior CWC members would personally meet the party chief as a "follow up" action regarding their recommendation for Rahul's elevation. After Sonia takes a decision, the CWC would meet again to formally ratify it.
Rahul was appointed party vice-president in January 2013 at Congress's brainstorming session in Jaipur.
The talk about his elevation has been going on for quite some time now. Leaders like Jairam Ramesh had even insisted that Rahul was the "de facto" (in fact) leader who has to become "de jure" (in law).
Antony said Sonia Gandhi will not nominate her successor as Congress President. "It is not her decision. She is not nominating the Congress president," he said.
"This is the first time the CWC has recommended (Rahul's elevation). The Congress president will not nominate the Congress president. The Congress Working Committee of AICC has to take the decision. (It is) the first time the entire CWC met today and unanimously recommended that Rahul Gandhi should take over."
He said, "For the first time, the entire CWC, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressed strong sentiment of crores of Congress workers and sympathisers that Rahul Gandhi must take over the presidency and mobilise other forces in its fight against the communal forces, dictatorial forces of the government, RSS and the Sangh Parivar."
"The unanimous sentiment of the CWC has ben noted and will be conveyed by senior members of Congress Working Committee to the Congress president," Surjewala said.
It is high time the Congress mobilised all the forces to fight against the anti-people and dictatorial policy of the Modi Government and also the RSS, Sangh Parivar and BJP's policy of communal polarization and destruction of peace and social harmony in the country, Antony said.
On what Rahul told the CWC members after being urged to take over the reins of the party, Surjwala said, "For him, the issue is to fight for the idea of India to ensure that decisive fight, including (protecting) the rights of media is carried to a logical conclusion and any responsibility that helps him realise that objective, he is always willing to more than take on that mantle and fulfil that responsibility."
The CWC also decided to seek another extension for a year from the Election Commission for completing its organisational elections. The current extension expires on December 31.
Antony, however, said delaying the organisational polls had no connection with elevating Rahul Gandhi to the party president's post, apparently hinting at the possibility of Sonia stepping down to clear the way for her son even before the party elections have been wrapped up.
"We will cross the bridge when we come to it," Surjewala merely said when asked whether the CWC meeting saw any demand being raised for a larger role for Priyanka Gandhi in the party.
In his opening remarks, Rahul Gandhi made a scathing attack on the Modi government, saying democracy is going through "one of its darkest hours" with the ruling dispensation "obsessed with power and seeking to silence" all those who disagree.
Rahul alleged that "hiding behind the cloak of national security, civil society is being intimidated (by the government) for asking questions."
Alluding to the one-day ban on Hindi channel NDTV India, Gandhi said, "TV channels are being punished and asked to shut down. The opposition is being arrested for holding the government to account".
"Democracy under the present dispensation is going through one of the darkest hours," he said, adding that all attempts by the government to suppress fundamental freedom by "abusing" state power would only strengthen the Congress' resolve to defeat such "dangerous designs".
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