Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid on Sunday said that Rahul Gandhi is the top and only choice as party’s president, PTI reported.

“Frankly from everybody that I have spoken to or I have sensed their opinion, he [Gandhi] remains the number one [choice] and he remains the only one,” Khurshid said. “We have no indications as to whether he will accept our request.”

Khurshid made the remarks after the Congress Working Committee announced that the election to pick its next president will be held on October 17. The result will be declared two days later.

In July 2019, Gandhi had resigned as the Congress chief following the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress had won only 52 of 543 parliamentary seats in the polls.

On August 22, reports claimed that Rahul Gandhi has refused to contest the election for the Congress president’s post. Incumbent Congress president Sonia Gandhi also reportedly expressed her desire not to continue in the post citing health reasons.

Since then, several Congress leaders including Rajya Sabha MP Mallikarjun Kharge and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot have urged Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his decision and become the party chief again.

On Sunday, Khurshid said that efforts will be made to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take over the presidency of the party once he returns from abroad.

“Today it was not possible to dwell on that [Rahul Gandhi as party chief] because it was just the scheduling and it was all very difficult because it was a hybrid meeting,” Khurshid told PTI. “When he comes back I am sure we would want to persuade him.”

Senior Congress leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat also said party workers feel that Rahul Gandhi should agree to take over as the chief of the party.

“...We want to say that he should become the president,” Rawat said, according to PTI. “I am saying this as a Congress worker. This is the sentiment of lakhs and crores of workers.”

Strife within party

Since Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, Sonia Gandhi has acted the interim chief of the party. In August 2020, a group of 23 Congress leaders, known as G-23, had written to her to press for a complete revamp of the party’s organisation. The G-23 leaders have repeatedly said that the party needs an active president.

One of the G-23 leaders, former Rajya Sabha MP Ghulam Nabi Azad, quit the Congress on Friday. In his resignation letter, he alleged that Rahul Gandhi demolished the Congress’ “consultative mechanism” after he became the party’s vice-president in 2013.

Azad also said that the Congress has been conceding space to the BJP and regional parties because in the past eight years, the the leadership tried to foist a “non-serious individual” to be at the helm of the outfit.

Several other leaders in recent months have also cited dissatisfaction with the top leadership as the reason for having quit the party.

On Wednesday, Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill had quit the party, and stated that the “ideology and the vision of the current decision makers of the Indian National Congress” was no longer in sync with young persons.

On May 18, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, while resigning from the Congress, had accused the senior leadership of the Congress of lacking seriousness and being unwilling to listen to the problems of Gujarat’s residents.