Explained: Keeping it in the family, and everything else going on with the Congress

United Progressive Alliance?chairperson Sonia Gandhi has once again been elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP), ahead of the start of the first session of Parliament after the Lok Sabha elections.

At a meeting of party MPs at the Central Hall of Parliament on Saturday, June 1, the re-elected president rallied her battered party saying, “We will rise again.”

Sonia is now the chairperson of the CPP in both Houses. Her name was proposed by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and seconded by Jharkhand MP Jothimani S and Kerala MP K Sudhakaran.

Sonia said several decisive measures were being mulled over to strengthen the organisation, with sources claiming this may include installing a non-Gandhi as the party chief.

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On Saturday, however, Sonia lauded son Rahul for his “fearless leadership” during the elections that ended in May.

“Rahul led the party from the front with dynamism,” she said at the meeting, which was held in the shadow of an acute leadership crisis.

On Rahul stepping down

It comes a week after the former Congress president announced his decision to quit the post in the wake of the heavy battering his party took in the recent polls, which saw the Narendra Modi-led NDA storming to power with 352 of the 542 seats polled.

The Congress-led UPA failed to cross the 100 mark, and with Rahul losing the party’s bastion Amethi, political experts signalled the time had come for his resignation.

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The Congress Working Committee, however, was reluctant to accept his offer to resign; in a fractious meeting on May 25, it authorised him instead to overhaul the party, despite Rahul’s purported insistence on quitting.

Congress workers in several cities are alo known to have held demonstrations urging Rahul to rethink his decision to quit.

Rahul had been staying away from meeting party leaders ever since his resignation was overruled. This was his first official meeting since May 25.

Valiant and relentless: Sonia on Rahul’s campaign

Congress Rajya Sabha MPs and 52 newly elected Lok?Sabha MPs attended the meeting on Saturday in the backdrop of this stalemate.

Addressing them, Sonia praised her son for putting up a valiant challenge and relentless campaign against the ruling government.

“As Congress President, he [Rahul] has given his all and toiled night and day for the party. He demonstrated his fearless leadership, by taking the Modi government head on. He highlighted the injustices carried out against farmers, workers, traders and small businesses, against the youth, women and the marginalised sections of our society.”

“Rahul has rejuvenated the Congress organisation in many states, and most recently lead us to victory in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. As Congress President, he earned the respect and love of every worker and crores of voters across the length and breadth of our country,” she said.

On the question of removing him from party presidency, Congress spokesperson rubbished the prospect saying “Rahul is the chief and there are no two opinions about it”.

On the future of the party

The newly elected president said the party met several times to review the poll debacle and chalk out decisive measures to strengthen the party. Calling it “unprecedented crisis”, she said, “We must acknowledge the numerous challenges confronting the Congress party.”

“The Congress Working Committee met a few days ago to deliberate the next steps and the way forward for us. Several decisive measures to strengthen the party are being discussed.”

“In an unprecedented crisis lies an unprecedented opportunity. It is up to us to grasp it with humility and self-confidence, drawing the appropriate lessons from our defeat. The people of India expect us to honour their mandate by renewing and reinvigorating ourselves. Undeterred by the many challenges that lie ahead, we will rise again,” she said.

The need for a strong Opposition

Addressing the CPP meet, Rahul told his party’s parliamentarians, it will “be like the British period, when not a single institution supported the Congress party” and asserted “yet we are going to do it again”.

“We are 52 MPs. I guarantee you that these 52 MPs will fight against BJP every single inch. We are enough to make BJP jump everyday.”

He congratulated Sonia, saying, “Under her leadership, the Congress will prove to be a strong and effective opposition party that will fight to defend the Constitution of India.”

Both Sonia and Rahul on Saturday stressed that the party will vigorously oppose all divisive and regressive actions of the government. Sonia urged the MPs to play the role of an effective Opposition and ensure better coordination and cooperation with like-minded parties in the Rajya Sabha.

She expressed with conviction that the party along with its 52 MPs in the Lok Sabha will play the role of the Opposition sincerely and raise people’s issues in Parliament.

She reminded them that Congress had 44 MPs in the last term but were still able to expose the government’s “misdeeds” and preserve some of UPA’s historic policies and Acts from dilution. At the same time, they also collaborated with the government on several key reforms, she said to boost their morale.

The MPs have to be a “little more aggressive, and they may have to shout a little more” as they will get less time in Parliament like the last time, Rahul chipped in.

Both leaders along with Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra later met all the MPs at the UPA chairperson’s Janpath residence.

The new parliamentary session begins on June 17.

Prrathana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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