The Congress will have an elected president by June 2021 "at any cost" in a decision taken on Friday by the party's working committee which also passed three resolutions including one demanding a JPC probe into the alleged violations of national security in the light of the purported WhatsApp chats of Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami.
After a three-and-a-half-hour meeting, which was stormy at times, the Congress Working Committee, the party's highest policy making body, authorised incumbent chief Sonia Gandhi to schedule the internal elections after the conclusion of assembly polls in five states due to be held in April-May.
The meeting also saw the internal rift in the party coming to the fore with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot sparring with senior leader Anand Sharma over holding of elections to the CWC.
Addressing a joint press conference, senior Congress leaders K C Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala said the CWC elections will also be held but it remains to be seen whether they can be scheduled before or after the election to the post of Congress president.
"The CWC decided that there will be an elected Congress president by June 2021 at any cost," AICC general secretary K C Venugopal said, adding that the little change of schedule depending on the timing of the state elections will be decided soon.
Sources said the party's Central Election Authority had proposed the holding of polls for electing its president and the AICC session on May 29 and the CWC discussed the dates, but authorised Sonia Gandhi to schedule them after the assembly polls.
The three resolutions passed by the CWC demanded a repeal of the three contentious agriculture laws, a time-bound Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the alleged violations of national security and Official Secrets Act and another to ensure that the government ensures free time-bound COVID-19 vaccination for the poor and oppressed sections.
The demand for the JPC probe was in connection with the purported WhatsApp chats of Arnab Goswami with former Broadcast Audience Research Council head Partho Dasgupta.
During the course of the meeting, Gehlot slammed some of the letter-writers for demanding organisational elections and Sharma hit back, terming the remarks "disrespectful". Senior party leader Ambika Soni and some others supported the Rajasthan veteran, saying his remarks were emotive but did not name anyone.
Rahul Gandhi later said he understands the sentiments and emotions behind the remarks made both by Gehlot and Sharma and respects them. He said the issue should be resolved by holding the elections and the party should come out of such things and focus on the farmers agitation currently.
Sources said Gehlot attacked some of the letter-writers, saying that after being in the CWC for decades without fighting any election, they have suddenly remembered holding of elections to the highest decision-making body.
He also said the party leaders instead of fighting amongst them should focus on fighting the might of the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that the issue of internal elections should be left to the Congress president, who would decide whatever was in the party's best interest.
Gehlot did not mention any names but his references were apparently aimed at senior party leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal, who have been demanding organisational elections as well as an overhaul of the party.
Asked about the rumblings within the party, Surjewala, the Congress chief spokesperson, and Venugopal said there were no dissenting notes on the holding of elections.
"There was no dissent at the meeting," Surjewala said.
"There was no argument in the election schedule issue. The meeting was very fruitful. There is no dispute over conducting organizational election," Venugopal said.
Venugopal said the Congress president was requested unanimously to reschedule the AICC Plenary Session to the end of June 2021 and that the party chief's election would be concluded by that month.
The virtual meeting started with an address by Sonia Gandhi who launched a fierce attack on the Centre over the prolonged farmers' agitation, and alleged it has shown "shocking insensitivity and arrogance going through the charade of consultations".
She further alleged that it was now abundantly clear that the three farm laws were prepared in haste and Parliament was consciously denied an opportunity to examine in any meaningful detail their implications and impacts.
On the purported WhatsApp chat leaks of Arnab Goswami, she said, "There have been very disturbing reports on how national security has been so thoroughly compromised."
"The silence from the government's side on what has been revealed has been deafening. Those who give certificates of patriotism and nationalism to others now stand totally exposed," she added.
"The CWC demands a time-bound investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee to enquire into the breach of national security, violations of Official Secrets Act and the role of the persons involved. Ultimately, those who are guilty of treacherous behaviour must be brought before the law and punished," said the CWC resolution on the subject.
In another resolution, the CWC demanded that the Centre immediately repeal the three 'anti-agri' laws, against which the farmers have launched an agitation for nearly two months.
In the third resolution, the CWC said it calls upon the Centre to take all necessary steps to overcome the hesitancy among frontline health professionals on COVID-19 inoculation and ensure that the vaccine was provided free of cost to the poor and under privileged in a time bound manner.