New Delhi: A meeting of Congress Lok Sabha MPs called by party president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the political situation in the country was dominated by calls for Rahul Gandhi to take over as the party chief on Saturday.

The demand was first raised by party chief whip in Lok Sabha K Suresh and seconded by a majority of MPs who attended the virtual meeting that lasted over three hours, sources said.

Suresh is learnt to have said that Rahul Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of espousing people’s issues during the pandemic, needs to take over the reigns of the Congress at this critical time.

The demands were raised with Rahul Gandhi in attendance at the meeting, even though neither he nor Sonia Gandhi said anything on this issue, the sources said.

Manickam Tagore, Gaurav Gogoi, Anto Antony, Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka, and some others backed the demand.

Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress president after the party’s 2019 Lok Sabha poll debacle and Sonia Gandhi was installed as interim chief on August 10 by the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body.

On Saturday, she had convened a meeting with party Lok Sabha MPs to discuss the current political and COVID-19 situation in the country.

According to the sources, the MPs also raised the demands for convening the Monsoon Session of Parliament and how the government was evading parliamentary scrutiny. The India-China standoff was also raised by many MPs, including Rahul Gandhi, who said the government continues to mislead the country on Chinese incursions and the current situation in Ladakh.

All the MPs demanded restoration of MPLADS funds which have been discontinued due to the pandemic. The Congress members said since they were public representatives, they were unable to fulfil their responsibilities in view of the suspension of the scheme.

The Central Government suspended the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for two years in view of huge funds requirement to fight COVID-19. The funds under MPLADS for the next two years will be part of the Central pool to fight the pandemic.

The Congress parliamentarians also raised the issues of economic downturn, agriculture distress, high petroleum prices. Many suggested the party should raise the cause of the middle class, who have been the hardest hit due to the slowdown and job losses.

Rahul Gandhi said the Congress was not playing politics on the issue of Chinese incursions and the party did not want India to be seen as a “weak country” by ceding its land to China. He also accused Prime Minister Narendra modi of “misleading” the country on the border issue, the sources said.

On COVID-19, the former Congress chief said the central government has “mishandled” the situation and highlighted its apathy in handling the crisis.

Now, he said, when the situation has gone out of hand, the Centre has left it to states to fend for themselves. He also demanded that the PM-CARES Fund be audited as it has accepted public money and raised the issue of donations received from some Chinese companies into the fund which, he added, needs to be probed.

The Congress is likely to raise the issues discussed on Saturday during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, which may take place next month.

The Congress has been critical of the BJP-led government over various issues, particularly its handling of the pandemic as COVID-19 cases have risen exponentially after the easing of lockdown, and the situation at the border with China in eastern Ladakh where 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent standoff with Chinese troops on June 15.

The Congress has also been slamming the government for not granting financial relief to the poor. It has demanded cash transfer into their bank accounts.

The party has also been raising the issue of rise in petrol and diesel prices and demanded a reduction in fuel charges after a slack in global crude oil prices.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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