Rahul is under pressure to accept the post that he quit in the aftermath of Congress’ decimation in 2019 elections. He is being persuaded by his loyalists as well as by veterans, who are impressing upon him the need to provide stability to the party after around three years of drift during which Congress has failed to win any election.
Many believe Rahul will have to finally accept the job. The settling of the leadership issue in a convincing manner has implications not just for Congress but also for the crowded anti-BJP bloc which is witnessing increasing jostling for the 2024 elections.
But if Rahul doesn’t agree, there is the possibility of either Sonia Gandhi continuing or the party zeroing in on a veteran to take up the post.
This possibility has trained the focus on the seniors in the party. Sources said MP unit chief Kamal Nath was approached by some leaders, including dissidents, to contest the election, but he declined saying that he cannot leave the state after being there for four years. As a senior leader, Nath is close to the Gandhi family and also has acceptability among other party leaders.
Some say that a senior Dalit leader can be the choice if the party has to fill the post outside the Gandhi family, which will also rule out AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
The profile being suggested has created a buzz among the party insiders over the name of former Union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. But the oft-speculated names of Mallikarjun Kharge, Mukul Wasnik are also in the mix. Former Speaker Meira Kumar is also being talked about.
Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot is once again being viewed as a strong probable, while some are also pointing to AICC general secretary in charge of communication, Jairam Ramesh.
Interestingly, the choice of senior leader Ambika Soni to hoist the flag at the party headquarters on the Independence Day has also triggered a chatter, with observers asking if it contained any message about the future. However, many managers said the task is routinely performed by a senior leader in the absence of Congress chief. Sonia Gandhi, who has tested positive for Covid, stayed away from the function.