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Congress leaders spar at CWC meeting, defer party polls till June

Amid sharp exchanges between senior leaders over internal polls, the virtual meeting of Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Friday deferred the decision to elect a new party president until June, even as it adopted three resolutions including one demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into Republic TV promoter Arnab Goswami's leaked WhatsApp chats.

The other two resolutions were about backing the farmers' organisations in their fight against the farm laws, and expressing gratitude to scientists for developing a COVID vaccine in record time, asking for free vaccines for under-privileged sections and appealing to people to come forward to vaccinate themselves.

 

However, the issue of holding organisational polls exposed the faultlines in the party with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior leader Anand Sharma sparring over it and former party president Rahul Gandhi stressing on the need to “avoid using harsh words”.

When Madhusudnan Mistry, who heads the party’s election panel suggested postponing the internal polls until May because of restrictions on large gathering because of COVID, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad opposed the idea and wanted polls to be held immediately.

Multiple sources told The Hindu that Mr Azad, demanded elections not just to the CWC but also to the Central Election Committee (CEC), the body that decides who gets to contest an election on a Congress ticket.

He was backed by Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik — both members of the group of 23 dissenters (G-23) who had asked for a revamp of the party in a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi last August — as well as former Finance Minister, P Chidambaram.

Senior leader Ambika Soni, however, asked if the move would involve changing the party constitution. While both Mr Sharma and Mr Wasnik explained that the current constitution allows the party to do so, sources said, Rajasthan Chief Minister (CM) Ashok Gehlot jumped right into the debate.

Mr Gehlot, claimed sources, asked about the standing [haisiyat] of those demanding internal polls, their faith in the Congress leadership, asking whether arch rival BJP helds such elections and the hurry to hold elections at a time when the BJP was destabilising elected Congress governments.

He is learnt to have said “whatever positions — be it CM, Union minister or a position in CWC — these leaders occupy now is because the leadership chose them for these roles”.

Hitting back, Mr Sharma expressed hurt at Mr Gehlot questioning their intent, recalled his association of 47 years with the Rajasthan CM and asserted that “the CWC was not a forum to use intemperate language’.

Ms Sonia tried to calm tempers by telling Mr Sharma that the Rajasthan Chief Minister had not named anyone and didn’t mean him.

Speaking after the two leaders, Mr. Gandhi said he “understood the differing viewpoints and asserted that only elections can end the debate”.

“Rahul ji said that hard words should not have been used and this meeting should have focussed only on farmers,” a CWC member said.

A.K. Antony, Harish Rawat, Randeep Surjewala and Avinash Pande were the other CWC members who did not endorse the idea of an elected CEC.

Trying to downplay internal differences, general secretary (organization) K.C. Venugopal told reporters at a press conference, “There is no dispute for conducting organisation election; everybody is for organisation elections. As per our constitution, there is little clarity needed on whether the Congress President election and Working President can be together or after the President election, CWC election has to be done.”

Though the party’s election authority had recommended the month of May for internal elections, he said, the date has been pushed back in view of the upcoming Assembly polls in Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

The CWC also discussed about the party’s preparedness for these Assembly polls, said a leader.

In her opening remarks to the CWC, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi touched upon all the issues that were adopted as resolutions and accused the government of “shocking insensitivity towards farmers” and a “deafening silence” over the leaked WhatsApp chats.

“It is abundantly clear that the three laws were prepared in haste and Parliament was consciously denied an opportunity for examining in any meaningful details their implications and impacts. Our position has been very clear from the very beginning: we reject them categorically because they will destroy the foundations of food security that are based on the three pillars of MSP [minimum support price], public procurement and PDS [public distribution system],” she said.

Without naming the Republic TV promoter, she said, “I think just a few days back, Antony-ji had said that leaking of official secrets of military operations is treason. Yet the silence from the Government’s side on what has been revealed has been deafening. Those who give certificates of patriotism and nationalism to others now stand totally exposed.”

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 12:11:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/congress-leaders-spar-at-cwc-meet/article33638383.ece

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