The Congress Working Committee late on Saturday named Congress Parliamentary Party chairperson Sonia Gandhi its interim president after her son Rahul Gandhi refused another request from the party to continue in the post. She will hold the post until the party holds an election to pick a regular president.

Rahul Gandhi had quit as Congress president following the party’s huge loss in the General Elections earlier this year. He had been in the post since December 2017, when he succeeded Sonia Gandhi after she led the party for 19 years.

On Saturday morning, the committee formed five regional groups to hold separate consultations with the party’s state presidents, legislature party leaders, secretaries and MPs to pick the next president. The names of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were on all five groups, even though they had refused to be part of this process. They had said they had been Congress presidents in the past and did not want to influence opinion in any manner.

“There is process of consultation and naturally Rahul ji and myself, we cannot be part of that consultation,” Sonia Gandhi said in the morning, according to PTI. Rahul Gandhi left the selection process saying he would instead visit his parliamentary constituency Wayanad, in Kerala, to take stock of the flood situation.

In a statement after its meeting late in the evening, the Congress Working Committee said that after considering the views of the groups, it had “unanimously resolved” that Rahul Gandhi should continue as the party president, “as desired by all who were consulted today”.

The party requested Rahul Gandhi to accept this decision, but he refused to withdraw his resignation, the statement said. “Consequently, the CWC unanimously resolved to request Smt. Sonia Gandhi to take over as Interim President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC [All India Congress Committee],” the statement said.

Party praises Rahul Gandhi’s ‘exceptional leadership’

The working committee praised Rahul Gandhi for his “exceptional leadership” as Congress president. It said Gandhi had led the party with “unbounded drive, fierce determination and dedication”, and campaigned for elections with “indefatigable energy”.

“He stood up fearlessly on issues of day-to-day concern to kisans, khet mazdoors [farm labourers], workers, traders and small businesses, youth, women, minorities, dalits and adivasis and the weaker sections of our society,” said the Congress Working Committee in a resolution. “He raised his voice boldly against the growing atmosphere of fear and intimidation in our country. These issues continue to be of significant relevance irrespective of the electoral verdict of May 2019.”

Rahul Gandhi gave a “new sense of aggression and modernity to the party”, the committee said. “He inspired every Congress worker through his never-say-die attitude and earned their admiration and respect,” it added. “He emerged as a beacon of hope for the very large number of people who cherish the idea of India on which our freedom movement and the Constitution was anchored. He came to be seen as a bulwark against the forces of hate, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and divisiveness.”

The party said Gandhi’s decision to quit from his post after the loss in the General Elections had set “new standards of accountability in public life”. “The CWC applauds his courage, commitment and conviction in stepping down as Congress President which was a deeply personal decision but is encouraged that his services, inputs and advice will continue to be available to the party,” the committee said.

Last week, former Mumbai Congress chief Milind Deora had suggested Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot for the post, while Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Shashi Tharoor had recommended Rahul Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Gandhi.

Former Union ministers Mukul Wasnik, Mallikarjun Kharge and Sushil Kumar Shinde were among the frontrunners for the president’s post, according to several reports.

Rahul Gandhi had quit the party’s top post, taking responsibility for the poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections, where it won only 52 of 542 parliamentary seats. Gandhi had offered to step down as Congress president on May 25, but the Congress Working Committee had unanimously rejected his resignation then. However, he had remained firm on his decision despite several top leaders urging him to continue leading the party.