For the past 24 h, the media reported that after running into a "reluctant" Rahul Gandhi, the Indian National Congress (INC) leadership (read "the dynasty") veered towards Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, with party president Sonia Gandhi requesting the Rajasthan chief minister to take over the reins of the organisation. Even this morning, a report in The Hindu said Sonia Gandhi had spoken with Gehlot yesterday in a closed-door meeting, before flying abroad for a medical check-up, and asked him to take over. But when questioned, Gehlot said, "I'm hearing this from the media. I don't know about this. I'm fulfilling duties that have been assigned to me."
"This has been doing the rounds in the media for a long time. You keep talking about it. Nobody knows what is going to be decided," the Rajasthan chief minister remarked, adding that he would continue to work "as a disciplined soldier of the party".
Gehlot is seen as the front-runner for the post if all three Gandhis turn it down. But he reasserted today that there was no question of anyone other than Rahul Gandhi leading the party. "We will try till the very last to ensure that Rahul Gandhi becomes Congress president," he said.
Gehlot told a news channel he had paid a courtesy call before going to Gujarat. "She has given me two tasks – the Gujarat election and Chief Minister of Rajasthan. My job is to continue as Chief Minister at present – that is my responsibility and that there is no anti-incumbency at present – and to look after the elections of Gujarat," he said.
On whether he considered himself a candidate for INC president, he said: "I never become the candidate. I do whatever the high command tells me. I have been a disciplined soldier all my life. I will remain so."
The INC has to elect a new chief by 20 September as per the mandate of the party constitution. Previously, when former party president Rahul Gandhi had been requested to take over the task, he declined the offer and thus his mother became the 'interim' president.
Rahul Gandhi had quit over the party's abject defeat in the 2019 national election. He has reportedly asserted that it is time for a non-Gandhi to step up. But from the dynasty, Sonia Gandhi said she could not continue in the role because of her poor health.
In the midst of speculation that he leads the list of options outside the dynasty before the party, Gehlot had said earlier this week that Rahul Gandhi must respect the sentiments of INC workers and accept the top post. "If Rahul Gandhi does not become the party president, it will be a disappointment for the Congressmen in the country. Many people will sit at home and we will suffer. He (Rahul Gandhi) should accept this post by himself, understanding the sentiments of the common Congress people in the country," Gehlot had said.
The INC is already running late on the start of its internal election. The schedule may be announced later this week after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), which will be attended virtually by Sonia Gandhi.
The INC, a remnant and vestige of the Congress that was established by AO Hume but had participated in the freedom struggle, has been led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for much of its 136-year-old history. Today's Congress was, in fact, named after the family at one point of time: Congress (Indira).