Uncertainty over next UPA chief: Claims for post from Pawar, Mamata camps

Congress President Rahul Gandhi sits with his mother and former Congress president Sonia Gandhi (Photo: PTI)
There is uncertainty on whether Congress President Rahul Gandhi would also succeed his mother Sonia Gandhi (pictured) as the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), particularly after key former and potential constituents, like the Trinamool Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), have indicated that their party chiefs 
have better credentials for the post.

On Tuesday, senior Congress leader M Veerappa Moily said in Hyderabad that no decision has been taken on whether Sonia Gandhi would continue to occupy the position of UPA chairperson or make way for new party president. He said there were calls for her continuation in the position, but said Rahul Gandhi was also capable of holding the post.
Moily said the decision on the UPA's chairmanship has not yet been taken and “it is left to them (Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi)”. 

Rahul Gandhi officially took over the reins of the party on December 16. As mandated by the Congress constitution, Rahul Gandhi will soon succeed his mother as the leader of the Congress parliamentary party.

Trinamool Congress' leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O'Brien has said her party chief, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, “has the best credentials to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2019.” O'Brien pointed to “four decades of Banerjee's political work”, her multiple stints in the Union Cabinet and how Trinamool would play the “catalyst” to remove the BJP in 2019.

Over the past year, Banerjee has crafted for herself a national role. Last week, she received phone calls from youth leaders of Gujarat, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani. Her lieutenants also highlight the lead Banerjee took to oppose demonetisation, and her protest march from Parliament House to Rashtrapati Bhavan was joined by Aam Aadmi Party and Shiv Sena. When she was in Mumbai earlier this month, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and son Aditya called on the Bengal CM.

Just as Trinamool Congress believes Banerjee is much senior to Rahul Gandhi in the Congress, the NCP is also keen that their chief Sharad Pawar, an old Congressman, lead the UPA. An NCP member said last week that Rahul Gandhi was “unfit to lead the UPA”, when senior leaders such as Pawar are still around. Janata Dal (United) leaders still insist how Nitish Kumar was made to leave as the Congress wasn't willing to accept him as the leader of the coordination committee to select the Opposition's candidate for presidential election. 

Needless to say, any person who will lead the UPA will also be the undeclared prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition. Of late, Pawar has spent time reaching out to the Congress after party leader Praful Patel snapped his party's alliance with the Congress in Gujarat, and fielded NCP candidates. Pawar has taken part in Congress-led protests and demonstrations on farm issues and also welcomed Rahul Gandhi's elevation as the Congress chief.

Last Sunday, the Congress organised a farewell dinner for their outgoing party chief Sonia Gandhi. The table where Sonia Gandhi sat also seated Pranab Mukherjee, M Hamid Ansari and Manmohan Singh. From among the allies, leaders of the Trinamool, Left parties and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) joined Sonia Gandhi and others. Rashtriya Janata Dal's Misa Bharti, NCP's Praful Patel, Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav sat at another table. “It was evidence that the Trinamool and DMK are the key Congress allies for 2019,” a leader said. Currently, neither Trinamool nor NCP are officially members of the UPA.

However, Moily disagreed with O'Brien's claim that Banerjee has the “finest credentials”. “It is not an objective assessment,” Moily said.  Seniors like Moily want Sonia Gandhi to continue to be a part of the decision-making process and give her counsel to Rahul Gandhi. Moily said Sonia Gandhi provided “best leadership” for the party and also the UPA. “Most of the coalition partners, including the Left, TMC … everybody joined. That kind of leadership should be holistic, comprehensive and it should be inspiring. That kind of inspiring coalition was done under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi,” he said.

In the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, Sonia Gandhi's role in reaching out to regional parties and allies had eventually resulted in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government being thrown out of power. The next UPA chairperson will be expected of reprising that role for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

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