Rahul Gandhi remains the "number one" and the "only" choice of the Congress rank and file for the party chief's post, senior leader Salman Khurshid said on Sunday after the schedule for the election of the AICC president was announced.
Khurshid said efforts will be made to persuade Gandhi to take over the presidency of the party once he returns from abroad.
Ending speculation, the Congress after a meeting of the party's working committee, announced that the election for its president will be held on October 17 with the winner being declared two days later.
Asked whether Rahul Gandhi remains the choice of party leaders, Khurshid said, "Frankly from everybody that I have spoken to or I have sensed their opinion, he remains the number one (choice) and he remains the only one."
"We haven't got into any conversations beyond that...we have no indications as to whether he will accept our request. Today, it was not possible to dwell on that because it was just the scheduling and it was all very difficult because it was a hybrid meeting," Khurshid, a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee, told PTI.
"When he comes back I am sure we would want to persuade him," Khurshid said.
The former Union minister said party workers and leaders share the sentiment expressed by senior party leader and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge who said on Saturday that Rahul Gandhi would be persuaded to return as Congress president as there is none in the party other than him who has a pan-India appeal.
Khurshid said "100 per cent" the rank and file of the party wants Rahul Gandhi at the helm.
Echoing similar views, senior party leader and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat said party workers feel that Rahul Gandhi should agree to take over the reins of the party.
"...We want to say that he should become the president. I am saying this as a Congress worker. This is the sentiment of lakhs and crores of workers," Rawat said.
The CWC meeting was presided over by Sonia Gandhi, who is abroad for medical checkups. She was seen flanked by former party chief Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who are accompanying her.
The meeting came amid several leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, having publicly exhorted Rahul Gandhi to return as the party chief. However, uncertainty and suspense continue on the issue. Several party insiders say Rahul Gandhi is persisting with his stance that he will not be the All India Congress Committee (AICC) president.
Gehlot, on Wednesday, had sought to play down reports about him being the frontrunner for the Congress president's post and said efforts would be made till the last minute to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the party again.
Rahul Gandhi had resigned as Congress president after the party suffered its second consecutive defeat in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Sonia Gandhi, who took over the reins of the party again as interim president, had also offered to quit in August 2020 after an open revolt by a section of leaders, referred to as G-23, but the CWC had urged her to continue.