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NEW DELHI: Sonia Gandhi will continue as interim president of the Congress for another six months during which period her successor would be elected. As the party’s highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), met on Monday, it brought back memories of the times when the grand old party faced similar situations in the over last two decades.
Sonia Gandhi joined the Congress in December 1997. Since then, this is the fifth occasion when the party has undergone bouts of instability and uncertainty over the president’s post.
Even before she took over as its president on March 14, 1998, the party went through a tumultuous phase.
1998
Sonia Gandhi joined the party during Sitaram Kesri’s presidentship at the Calcutta plenary session in December 1997. Subsequently, there was a chorus for her to take over as the party president.
Like on August 24, the CWC had met on March 14, 1998 to discuss the leadership issue.
Kesri was not willing to step down from the top post on that day. But he was removed unconstitutionally and unceremoniously. He was locked in the bathroom of his chamber at 24, Akbar Road.
Thereafter, a resolution was passed in the meet appointing Sonia Gandhi as the party president.
On coming out, he found that his nameplate had been replaced by that of Sonia Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi did not face challenge from Kesri alone. Former Union minister Rajesh Pilot was also planning to throw his hat in the ring.
In order to convey the message that his style of politics was being against sycophancy, he had readied himself to contest against Sonia Gandhi. However, Pilot succumbed to pressure from other senior party leaders and he opted out of the election.
1999
The trio of National Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tarique Anwar had revolted against the projection of Sonia Gandhi as the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate in May 1999 over her “foreign origin” issue.
Her position as party president was also challenged by the three leaders who were also CWC members.
As a mark of protest, Sonia Gandhi resigned from the president’s post.
At the AICC session held on May 25, 1999, senior party leaders exerted pressure on Sonia Gandhi to withdraw her resignation as party president.
Several party workers assembled outside her official residence at 10 Janpath, demanding withdrawal of her resignation letter.
The unrest came to end after Pawar, Sangma and Anwar were expelled from the primary membership of the party for a period of six years.
2000
Just a year after the expulsion of Pawar, Sangma and Anwar, both Pilot and Prasada challenged Sonia Gandhi’s position.
Prasada, former prime minister Narasimha Rao and Kesri were accused of being hand in glove with the three expelled leaders.
Pilor was again planning to contest the next organisational election, which was held in November 2000, for the Congress president’s post.
Pilot and Prasada held a massive rally on May 21, 2000 – Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary – in Jhansi.
But within 20 days of holding the rally, Rajesh Pilot died in a car accident near Jaipur on June 11, 2000.
Though Pilot was no more, Prasada contested the presidential post in November 2000. But he lost by a huge margin.
His defeat was a forgone conclusion because the large majority of the leaders supported Sonia Gandhi.
In an unpleasant scene though, Kesri and Prasada were allegedly assaulted by the party supporters in front of 24, Akbar Road.
Prasada died on January 16, 2001.
2019
The Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The CWC met on May 25, two days after the election results were declared.
The then president Rahul Gandhi resigned from his post owning responsibility for the Congress’s dismal performance.
He said accountability was critical for the future growth of the party. “It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress president.”
Senior party leaders requested Rahul to withdraw his resignation. After more than a month of uncertainty, he finally announced on July 3 that he was determined to step down.
He continued on the post till Sonia Gandhi was appointed on August 10 last year as the interim president under rule 18 (h) of the Congress which gives power to the CWC to elect an interim president in the case of sudden vacancy of the president’s post.
Since then, the Congress has been witnessing a phase of dissatisfaction and discontentment against the party leadership over the president’s post.

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