Handing baton to son, Sonia retires as Congress president

Rajat Kain

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Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is slated to hand over the baton to his son Rahul Gandhi on Saturday, has retired as party chief. She announced her retirement before the party MPs at the Parliament House on Friday, the first day of current session.

With this, she has also put an end to the speculation of her role post Rahul Gandhi’s formal elevation as the party chief.

“Smt. Sonia Gandhi has retired as President of Indian National Congress and not from politics. Her blessings, wisdom and innate commitment to Congress ideology shall always be our guiding light,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a tweet.

Rahul Gandhi was formally elected to succeed his mother as the president of Congress party on December 11 after his lone nomination was approved by the office-bearers of Congress party ruling out a contest.

Sonia, widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, took over the mantle of Congress president in 1998. She leaves office as the longest running president of India’s grand old party. Under her tenure, the Congress party, which was facing terminal decline in mid 90’s post the rise of BJP, revived itself winning several state assembly polls and back to back Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009.

New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi speaks to media at AICC office after appearing at Patiala House court in National Herald Case in New Delhi on Saturday, December 19, 2015. Photo - PTI

New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi speaks to media at AICC office after appearing at Patiala House court in National Herald Case in New Delhi on Saturday, December 19, 2015.
Photo – PTI

Her taking over wasn’t all that smooth with veteran leaders Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma walking out of the party protesting against her foreign origin. The two along with another Congress leader Tariq Anwar founded Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 1999.

Ironically, months after its formation, NCP entered a post-poll tie-up with Congress in Maharashtra where the two ran state government for 15 long years. NCP was also its pre-poll ally in three Lok Sabha polls 2004, 2009 and 2014.

The issue of foreign origin came to hunt back her party after 2004 Lok Sabha polls victory with BJP leaders protesting against her assuming the office of Prime Minister. The Congress party chose senior leader and eminent economist Manmohan Singh to lead the government in 2004 with Sonia as the head of National Advisory Council (NAC).

It was in this role, doubled up as the chief of ruling party, she was often referred to as ‘super PM’ by her critics during the 10-year stint of Congress-led UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh.

Earlier, for six years (1998-2004), she steered Congress party in the Parliament as the Leader of Opposition. Her term as party chief, however, will also be marked with a biggest ever defeat of the Congress in Lok Sabha polls after it was folded to just 44 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

It remains unclear if she will contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from the family bastion of Raebareli. Her son Rahul Gandhi is an MP from neighbouring Amethi Lok Sabha constituency.