Amid speculation about a merger between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, Congress president Rahul Gandhi met NCP supremo Sharad Pawar here on Thursday. The meeting, which lasted close to an hour, was held at Mr Pawar’s residence. Insiders claim that if such a merger takes place, the Congress-NCP’s tally in the Lok Sabha will go up to 57, and the merged party will be eligible to get the Leader of the Opposition post. As a gesture, the Congress is likely to offer an influential post to Mr Pawar. However, a final decision on the merger is yet to be taken by both parties.
Mr Pawar was in the Congress before he floated the Nationalist Congress Party in 1999. The NCP is part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. Earlier, Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy also met Rahul Gandhi at his residence, where Sonia Gandhi was also present. Mr Kumaraswamy urged Rahul Gandhi not to step down as party chief.
The Congress has, meanwhile, decided to not send its spokespersons for television debates for a month, as the party faces a leadership crisis with Mr Gandhi insistent on his resignation as president. The Congress feels that after the Lok Sabha rout and the uncertainty within the party, its presence in TV debates will only hurt the party.
Interestingly, the Congress’ Lok Sabha members are set to meet on June 1 to elect their leader. After Mr Gandhi’s insistence on not continuing as party president, one of the options being considered is that he leads the party in the Lok Sabha. Most of the party’s state units have vehemently urged Mr Gandhi to continue as party chief.
The Congress’ allies, including the DMK, JD(S) and RJD, have also demanded that Mr Gandhi stay on as the party’s president.