Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi on Saturday pulled out of two committees to choose a new Congress chief as the Congress Working Committee on Saturday formed five regional groups to hold wider discussions on the issue.
The formation of groups was itself an unprecedented step by the party to pick a successor to Rahul Gandhi, who again rejected a unmous demand of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) to continue to head the post.
The CWC, which met in the morning, formed five region-wise groups under the head of Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka, Manmohan Singh and Ahmed Patel to hold consultations and give a report to it by evening to choose a new chief.
However, Sonia told reporters that to put their (Sonia and Rahul) names in the panels was a mistake. "We cannot be part of these consultation committees. That is why we are leaving," she said. Rahul also left the deliberations.
Under the decision taken by the party's highest decision-making body, Sonia Gandhi will the eastern region group, Singh the southern group, Rahul the western region, Priyanka the north region and Patel the northeast region.
The Congress wants to project that the process to choose an interim president of the party is transparent and successor of Rahul should not be seen as having been handpicked by the Gandhi family.
The theory doing the rounds is that in the consultation process after Rahul's rejection, tha names of Sonia and Priyanka would be suggested for the chief's post and if they too should reject the idea, then the CWC should appoint a new president.
"All the members of the Congress unmously and in one voice wanted the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. The voice of the workers from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Porbandar to Tripura, wanted him to remain the party chief but his decision not to withdraw his resignation is final," party's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters after the first session of the CWC.
"All the members of the CWC also believed that Rahul Gandhi ji is the best person for the top post at the time when the BJP-led government is subjugating the Constitution, suppressing the voice of dissent, rising the democratic process and democracy per say in danger on the account of overwhelming majority that they enjoy and refuse to listen to the voice of people of India," he said.
Surjewala said the CWC would meet again at 8PM.
Leader of the party in lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary said, "We will meet again at 8.30 pm, and it (name of new party chief) is expected to be finalized by 9 pm today itself."
Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said: "The process of deliberations has begun and is taking place in a smooth manner."
A lawmaker from Wayanad constituency, Gandhi offered to step down from the post of Congress president at the CWC meeting on May 25, taking moral responsibility for the party's drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
( With inputs from ANI )