The Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Saturday chose Sonia Gandhi as "interim president" of the party, nearly two-and-half months after her son Rahul Gandhi resigned as the party chief taking responsibility for the party's debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.
The decision signals the party's desire to fall back on the experience of the 72-year-old leader during one of its worst periods and also its continued dependence on the Nehru-Gandhi family for leadership.
The choice of Sonia Gandhi, who helmed the party for 19 years as party chief from 1998 to 2017, before handing over leadership to Rahul, caused some surprise as there had been speculation that a non-Gandhi could be made the interim chief.
The CWC, the highest decision-making body of the party, also discussed the situation in Kashmir and expressed concern over reports of violence. It passed a resolution urging the government to allow a delegation of political leaders to visit the state.
It also passed a resolution hailing Rahul Gandhi's leadership and another of Sonia Gandhi's appointment as interim chief.
The resolutions were read by Congress General Secretary (orgsation) KC Venugopal and party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala.
Surjewala said that Sonia Gandhi has accepted the request of Congress Working Committee to be interim chief pending the election of a regular President by the AICC.
He said the CWC can only elect an interim chief and spoke of how the CWC members emphasised the "time tested" leadership of Sonia Gandhi.
He said Sonia Gandhi, who is the lone Congress MP from Uttar Pradesh, will emerge as the "most potent voice of the opposition" and refused to answer if Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's name was also suggested during the meeting.
The decision to make Sonia Gandhi, who was party chief for the longest time, as the interim chief was made late in the evening after CWC met for a second time in the day following consultations with state Congress chiefs, Congress legislative party leaders, MPs, and secretaries.
Rahul Gandhi had offered to resign at the CWC meeting in May. Though the CWC declined his offer, he insisted on his resignation being accepted and the party went through a period of political uncertainty at the top. He wrote a letter last month which said that "rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019".
The party has again reposed its faith in Sonia Gandhi at a time when it faces multiple challenges stemming from its second successive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, desertions across state units and ideological confusion over the Centre's move to scrap Article 370 of Constitution.
The immediate electoral challenge for the party is in assembly elections later this year in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
Sonia Gandhi commands wide acceptability and loyalty in the party and her taking over as interim party chief is expected to help meet some of the immediate challenges.
In 1998, when Sonia Gandhi had taken over as party chief, the party faced several challenges and she gradually worked to bring the party to power as head of two coalition governments.
The CWC on Saturday again twice urged Rahul Gandhi to reconsider his decision to resign but he declined.
The resolution said that CWC considered the views of PCC presidents, CLP leaders, AICC Secretaries and MPs and unmously resolved that Rahul Gandhi should continue as Congress president but he declined.
"Consequently, the CWC unmously resolved to request Sonia Gandhi to take over as Interim President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC," it said.
In other resolution, the CWC placed on record its profound sense of "appreciation and gratitude for the exceptional leadership" provided by Rahul Gandhi as Congress President.
Even as it urged Rahul Gandhi to take back his resignation, it said his "instinctive moral compass" is evident from the manner in which he took responsibility for the party's performance in 2019 Lok Sabha elections and set new standards of accountability in public life.
"The CWC applauds his courage, commitment and conviction in stepping down as Congress President," it said and added that Congress workers look to him for continued support and guidance.
It said Gandhi led the party with "unbounded drive, fierce determination and dedication", campaigned in elections with "indefatigable energy", "stood up fearlessly" on issues of concern to people, raised "voice boldly against the growing atmosphere of fear and intimidation".
The CWC said these issues continue to be of significant relevance irrespective of the electoral verdict of May 2019.
Rahul Gandhi, it said, gave a new sense "of aggression and modernity" to the party orgzation, opened up opportunities to the younger generation, inspired every Congress worker through "his never-say-die attitude" and earned their admiration and respect.
"He emerged as a beacon of hope and came to be seen as a bulwark against the forces of hate, prejudice, bigotry, intolerance and divisiveness.
The party had formed groups formed earlier in the day for wider consultations.
Rahul Gandhi briefly joined the meeting for an hour in the evening to discuss the prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
( With inputs from ANI )