The Congress’ Delhi unit passed a “unanimous” resolution on Sunday evening asking Rahul Gandhi to return as party chief “with immediate effect”.
The resolution, expected to trigger a series of similar declarations by state units of the party, comes just days after it was announced that a new President would be elected in June – after Assembly elections in several key states, including Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The election of a new chief was announced after last week’s meeting of the CWC (Congress Working Committee) – the party’s highest decision-making body.
At the meeting, senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and P Chidambaram – among those who have raised uncomfortable questions over the party’s leadership and management – asked for organisational polls to be held immediately.
Against them were so-called Gandhi loyalists – Chief Ministers Ashok Gehlot and Amarinder Singh, and AK Antony, Tariq Anwar and Oommen Chandy – who said it should be held after state polls.
The argument reportedly prompted Mr Gandhi to declare: “Once and for all, finish it and move on.”
Mr Gandhi resigned as party chief in 2019 after the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha election, and has been adamant about not returning since, despite several calls to do so.
His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who has been interim chief since he resigned and was President before he took over, has made it clear she is not interested in retaining the post longer than necessary.
However, while the Gandhis say they do not want the top job, they continue to be the centre of power in the party. No big decision is taken without their sign-off.
Over the past months senior Congress leaders have called for introspection over continued poor performances in elections, and for “full time” and visible” leadership to take the party forward.
In August last year, 23 top leaders wrote to Mrs Gandhi on this subject, triggering a huge row that rattled the party and split it down the middle.
Veteran leaders like Mr Azad, Mr Sharma, Mr Wasnik, and Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor were among the signatories of a letter that called for decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units and organizational elections at every level.
“We have not criticised either Sonia or Rahul Gandhi but we want a complete overhaul of the Congress party in its management and style,” a senior leader said.
In response sources close to Mrs Gandhi, 73, said she talked of quitting, citing her poor health.
Sonia Gandhi had last month met some of the letter-writers and discussed the issues raised by them.