UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was re-elected as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) at a meeting of the party MPs at the Central Hall of Parliament in the national capital. Sonia, who was re-elected to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli constituency, will now pick the Congress leader in the Lower House. Saturday’s Congress meeting was attended by all 52 newly-elected Lok Sabha MPs, apart from Rajya Sabha members. Even though the number of party lawmakers in the Lower House is higher than that in 2014, the Congress is still short of three members to claim the post of Leader of Opposition.
Taking to Twitter, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said, "Sonia Gandhi was elected as the leader of Congress Parliamentary Party! She says, we thank the voters for reposing faith in the Congress Party."
Exuding confidence in his mother, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said under Sonia’s leadership, the party will prove to be an "effective opposition party to defend the Constitution of India". "Congratulations to Smt Sonia Gandhi on being elected Leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. Under her leadership, the Congress will prove to be a strong and effective opposition party, that will fight to defend the Constitution of India," he tweeted.
This was the first official meeting that Rahul attended after the May 25 meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), where he had offered to quit as Congress chief. The CWC had rejected the offer and unanimously passed a resolution authorising him to bring structural changes in the party at all levels in a bid to revamp it.
"Rahul Gandhi thanked the voters and Congress workers. He says, every Congress member must remember that each one of you is fighting for the Constitution, for every person in India irrespective of the colour of his skin or belief ," Surjewala quoted him as saying during the meeting.
Senior leaders like Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, A K Antony, P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, K C Venugopal, Jairam Ramesh and Randeep Surjewal attended the party’s core committee meeting to discuss the issue of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Earlier, Rahul held a meeting with former prime minister Manmohan Singh at the latter's residence. Besides him, Rahul also met NCP chief Sharad Pawar at the latter’s residence and held a meeting for nearly an hour, triggering talk of a possible merger between their parties. However, the NCP ruled out the merger ahead of the Assembly elections in September-October this year.
The Parliament session will commence on June 17 and conclude on July 26. The pro-term speaker will administer the oath to the newly-elected members of the Lok Sabha on June 17 and 18. President Ram Nath Kovind will also address a joint sitting of the two Houses a day later, on June 20.
Sonia hints that Rahul will remain Cong chief
Virtually ruling out a change of leadership in Congress, Sonia said her son and party president, Rahul Gandhi, had led a “valiant and relentless” election campaign and lauded him for his “fearless leadership” against an opponent she said was capable of manipulating public opinion and had unlimited resources.
In her speech to the Congress parliamentary party (CPP) after being re-elected chairperson, Sonia defended Rahul saying he had given his all and toiled day and night. “He demonstrated his fearless leadership by taking the Modi government head on,” she said.
At the same event, Rahul also struck a combative tone, saying the 52 Congress MPs in the new Lok Sabha will “fight BJP every inch, without giving this much and that applies to members of the Rajya Sabha as well”. He reiterated that Congress would fight hatred, cowardice and anger with “love and compassion”.
The short speeches to the CPP seem to indicate that there will be no vacancy at the top and Rahul will continue to be in charge even if he is yet to formally accede to pleas and suggestions of party leaders and allies not to insist on pressing his offer to resign as Congress president. Allies like Sharad Pawar and M K Stalin have urged Rahul to reconsider his quit offer.