Amid uncertainties over the leadership issue, senior Congress leader and former Union minister Ajay Maken has said it is high time Rahul Gandhi comes back as party president as he is the most acceptable leader. The former president of the Congress' Delhi unit, Mr Maken, in an interview to PTI, also batted for veterans to gradually make way for younger leaders, saying if parties do not change their leadership with time, then people change parties.
Vouching for Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief, he said there is no other face as acceptable as Mr Gandhi who also has good intent at heart, zero baggage and consistently takes an aggressive stand in fighting against the might of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Maken also argued for a long-term advisory role for interim president Sonia Gandhi saying her experience and expertise in handling Congress affairs would be much needed by the new president.
The party constitution can be amended to ensure that, he said.
"I think it is high time Rahul Gandhi comes back. I am saying this with very strong conviction and strong reasons behind this. Rahul Gandhi is universally acceptable in the Congress party. There is no other face who is as much acceptable as Rahul Gandhi is," Mr Maken said.
"So, a person who is universally acceptable, no baggage, good intent at heart and who has been consistent and most aggressive against the BJP and Modi, and has been the voice amplifier of farmers, Dalits and minorities. I think, he single-handedly deserves to be Congress president," he said.
Asked about what would be the right time for Rahul Gandhi to return, Mr Maken said, "the sooner, the better, because it will end uncertainty."
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also said Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah are deeply wary of the unwavering conviction and fearlessness with which Rahul Gandhi has taken on the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
"Rahul Gandhi has adequately proved his mettle. Time has come to rise above the parochial issues of regional leadership and work towards strengthening and rebuilding the Congress. Needless to add that Rahul Gandhi is the obvious and only choice to lead the Congress," he said.
Mr Maken noted that the country needs a person with "good intent at heart, not good content in speech".
"We have seen the country is paying the price to just follow good content in speech and the present situation where our country is in, the economy is in doldrums, there is a social strife, the riots going on in the national capital and the government not doing anything, is just because the people voted for good content in speech of Narendra Modi. They never saw the intent at heart of the leader," the Congress leader said.
Commenting on the old versus young debate in the Congress, Mr Maken strongly argued for gradual change of guard in the party and said parties must change their leadership in time.
"I am among the biggest supporters for change, but it has to be gradual. It can''t be in one big sudden change. But it has to be there. That change is required because if the parties don''t change their leadership in time, then the people change the parties," he said, adding that the electorate wants change.
On whether Congress veterans will be given an advisory role, he said it should be voluntary and not be imposed on them, as has happened in the case of party veterans in the BJP.
On voices backing organisational elections in the Congress, Mr Maken said elections to the post of party president and working committee members alone would not help, and an overall organisational poll from bottom to up is needed.
"Only elections for the president or the working committee will not empower the workers," said Mr Maken.
He noted that Rahul Gandhi has championed holding elections not only for the working committee, and president, but a series of elections at all levels in a transparent manner.
"That is what Rahul Gandhi has always stood for. He has wanted transparent elections throughout and even ticket distribution should be held through primaries and elections, where workers should decide who should be given the ticket," Mr Maken said.
On the Congress suffering two general election setbacks under Rahul Gandhi, he said as far as winning and losing elections is concerned, this is part of the process.
"How many elections under Atal Bihari Vajpayee did the BJP had win. In the 1990s the Vajpayee-Advani duo always used to lose election. The BJP never threw their leaders out of the party, as it was, they who got the BJP into power," the former Union minister said.
Mr Maken also called for spelling out clearly the Congress' ideology on issues of social, economic and nationalism, to avoid leaders speaking in different voices in public on key issues.
"We should have firmly laid down our ideological stand on key issues, as this would end any kind of confusion and it would also help Congress workers to have their loyalty and allegiance towards a particular philosophy or ideology," he said.
Mr Maken also said the Congress lost ground in Delhi because it stopped attacking Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal starting January 2019.
"BJP's polarisation agenda also helped the AAP," he said, rejecting the widely held belief that the Congress, under a deliberate electoral strategy, vacated the Delhi turf for the AAP.