Elections for a full-time Congress President and a team of new office-bearers will be held in August-September next year, the party said Saturday after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee.
Presidential elections will be held between August 21 and September 20, with block level and PCC level elections slotted for April 16-May 21 and July 21-August 20, respectively.
Sonia Gandhi - who has been interim President since Rahul Gandhi's resignation in 2019 - is expected to continue in that post till the membership drive and internal polls conclude.
Minutes before the Congress announced internal poll dates, sources claimed Rahul Gandhi had said he would "consider" returning as party boss, after appeals from senior leaders including all three of the Congress' Chief Ministers and former Union Minister AK Antony.
Sources earlier said the CWC would opt against short-term polls because many feel the party's focus should be on elections in Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Goa and other states next year, and that the continuing issue of an 'interim' leader will only hamper efforts to prep for those polls.
The overwhelming majority of the CWC therefore want a membership drive and internal 'grassroots-to-top' elections to choose a full-term President and not one till December 2022, sources had said.
It is important to remember, though, that Goa, Punjab, UP, Uttarakhand, and Manipur are all scheduled to vote before the Congress holds its internal elections.
Organisational polls and an overhaul of the party's leadership are long-standing demands of internal critics, including the 'G-23' - senior leaders who first wrote last year asking for sweeping changes.
Since then, various leaders have reminded the Gandhis nothing has changed on the ground and that the Congress' downward spiral continues; the party turned in uninspiring performances in the April-May round of state polls, including seeing its Puducherry government collapse just days before the polls.
The party also faces a crisis in Punjab, where veteran leader Amarinder Singh was "forced" to quit after a public spat with Navjot Sidhu. The Gandhis backed Mr Sidhu but now tensions between him and the new Chief Minister, Charanjit Channi, threaten to derail any re-election bid.
And then there are the politically key states of Gujarat (Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state) and Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has been vocal in over the past few months, targeting the Yogi Adityanath government over issues like the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and crimes against women.
On internal elections Mrs Gandhi admitted "the entire organisation wants a revival... but this requires unity and keeping the party's interests paramount".
"Above all, it requires self-control and discipline. I am acutely conscious of the fact I have been interim Congress President ever since the CWC asked me to return in this capacity in 2019," she said, pointing out that internal elections had been scheduled for June this year before the pandemic struck.
"Today is the occasion for bringing clarity once and for all. A schedule for full-fledged organisational elections is before you... General Secretary (Organization) (KK) Venugopal ji will brief you on the entire process later," Mrs Gandhi said.
"Our preparations began a while back. Undoubtedly, we face many challenges but, if we are united, disciplined, and focus on the party's interests alone, I am confident we will do well," she said.
Meanwhile, Mrs Gandhi also hit back (without referring to the 'G-23'), and defended her position as a "full-time and hands-on Congress President".
57 members met today, including Mrs Gandhi, Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi, and General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as well as senior figures like ex Union Minister P Chidambaram and the Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh (Bhupesh Baghel) and Punjab (Charanjit Channi).
Some members of the 'G-23' were also present.