NEW DELHI: Paving the way for the elevation of Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi as the party chief, Congress Working Committee (CWC) members on Monday unanimously expressed their "strong sentiments" that he must take over the post.
Rahul Gandhi chaired the meeting of the party's highest decision-making body as his mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi was indisposed.
He also set the stage with his opening remarks in which he accused the Narendra Modi government of being "obsessed with power", and that democracy under the present dispensation was going through one of its "darkest hours".
The CWC adopted a resolution blaming the government for "growing intolerance and jobless growth" and asserted that the party will continue to fight the "communal agenda of the BJP and the RSS".
The Congress also accused the government of seeking to derive political mileage from the Indian Army's surgical strikes across the Line of Control in September and said that the promised One Rank One Pension had not been implemented in a "meaningful way."
The party also decided to seek one more year's extension from the Election Commission for holding organisational elections.
The push for Rahul Gandhi's elevation as Congress chief came after senior leader A.K. Antony raised the issue and was supported by all the members present including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Rahul Gandhi also signalled his inclination to take up the post, saying he was willing to take up any role decided by the party and the CWC.
Antony told media persons later that it was the first time that the CWC had issued its "strong sentiments" on the issue.
"In today's working committee meeting, members unanimously expressed their strong sentiments that respecting the wishes of crores of party workers and well-wishers that Rahul Gandhi ji must take over the presidentship of the Congress party," Antony said in a joint press briefing with party leader Randeep Singh Surjewala.
"We are recommending this for the first time to the Congress President. The final decision has to be that of the party, President," he added.
Rahul Gandhi, 46, was appointed Vice President in January 2013 at Congress' brainstorming session in Jaipur.
A party leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Rahul Gandhi's elevation will definitely occur before December and another CWC meeting may be called for the purpose.
"The coming assembly polls, including those in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, will be fought with Rahul Gandhi as the party chief," he said.
Party leaders said that Sonia Gandhi, who has been the longest-serving president of the party since taking over in 1998 but has faced health problems in the recent past, will continue to be a guiding force.
In his remarks, Rahul Gandhi also charged the Modi government with seeking to "silence all those who disagree".
"Hiding behind the cloak of national security, civil society is being intimidated for asking questions. Television channels are being punished and asked to shut down. The opposition is being arrested for holding the government to account," he said.
Calling for "exposing" the Modi government in the upcoming Parliament session, Gandhi said: "Asking questions is what discomforts this government the most, for they have no answers."
On Pakistan, he said the government's policy has swung "from one extreme to another."
The resolution adopted by CWC also accused the government of "delay in the appointments of judges to the higher judiciary". It also observed key parameters of the economy were in sharp decline, noting that the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power on the promise of creating two crore jobs annually.
It asked the government to redress payment anomalies in OROP, correct its orders "about the cut in the disability pension" and address concerns about the disparity between civilian and military grades.
Referring to surgical strikes, it urged the government "to give up its crude attempt to gain political advantage out of the essentially military action", noting "false claims, chest thumping and jingoism have no place in a mature democracy".
The CWC also discussed preparations for upcoming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.