Faced with an unprecedented situation of senior leaders questioning the party’s top leadership in a letter, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have asked her colleagues to find new party chief as she was not keen to continue as interim president.
Ms. Gandhi is believed to have conveyed this to a senior party leader who handles organisational matters soon after completing a year as the party’s interim chief on August 10. However, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala denied that ‘Ms. Gandhi has spoken to anyone or written any letter’.
However, ahead of the crucial meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Monday , several senior leaders including Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Amarinder Singh, Puducherry Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Karnatak Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, former Law Ministers Ashwani Kumar and Salman Khurshid were among leaders who openly came out in support of the Gandhis on Sunday.
Opposing the bid by some Congress leaders to challenge the Gandhi family’s leadership of the party, Captain Amarinder said the move by these Congress leaders demanding a rehaul of the party at this critical juncture would be detrimental to the party’s interests and the interests of the nation.
“Currently no other leader in the Congress can give the party a strong leadership,” the Punjab Chief Minister said in a statement on Sunday, adding, “any move to divide or destabilise the party would give advantage to the dictatorial forces.”
“Sonia Gandhi should continue to helm the Congress as long as she wanted and then Rahul should thereafter take over as he was fully competent to lead the party,” he added.
Ms. Gandhi’s response follows a letter from a group of senior leaders including Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Lok Sabha member Manish Tewari, former union minister Veerappa Moily, former Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda among others.
In their letter, written about two weeks ago, the group questioned the Congress party’s style of functioning and suggested sweeping reforms.
Multiple sources told this reporter that nearly 300 party functionaries across different State units have endorsed the contents of the letter,which are likely to be made public depending on the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday.
The group has called for a “full time and effective leadership who are active in the field, a mechanism for collective leadership and elections to the CWC”. The group met late on Sunday ahead of the CWC meeting.
The letter was leaked to a prominent newspaper after the party announced the dates for the CWC meeting as Mr. Surjewala had earlier denied the existence of it.
The group is also said to be opposed to attempts being made to hand the reins back to former party chief Rahul Gandhi and would rather push for decision-making through a Parliamentary Board.
Other leaders, supporting the Gandhis, however, lashed out at the group claiming that “personal interests more than concern from the party” prompted the letter.
“Only a year ago, party persons literally begged Sonia Gandhi to lead the party and she agreed as a call of duty. The timing and the motivation of the letter are suspect. Although some Congressmen of long standing are signatories to the letter, there are some who have harmed the party repeatedly even after receiving more than their just dues. The time for political justice is here and hopefully the letter will expose such ‘leaders’,” said Ashwani Kumar.
Mr. Narayanasamy tweeted: “I saw the news in some newspapers that ex-congressmen wanted overhaul and changes in Congress party. This kind of statement will create confusion in the minds of millions of Congressmen. This a ploy by BJP to divert attention of people from Facebook controversy”.
“At a time when the very bedrock of India’s constitutional strength was under threat, it was important for every Congress man and woman to stand firmly and unitedly behind the Gandhis, who had held the party together all these decades and could continue to do so. Electoral defeats could not be the yardstick for leadership change,” said Captain Amarinder.
“Mr Azad is finishing his Rajya Sabha term early next year and is concerned about his political future. Similarly, the Lok Sabha MPs are upset at being passed over for the party leader's post and so on,” said a leader loyal to the Gandhis.
Some of the points raised in the letter have also been publicly articulated by leaders like Mr. Tewari and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor.
On August 2, in an interview to The Hindu , when Mr. Tewari was asked what could revive the party, he had said, “A full time president, elected by the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in terms of Article 18(h) of the [party’s] constitution.”
“The options are: (a) Rahul Gandhi could withdraw his resignation. (b) If he is reluctant for whatever reasons then Ms. Sonia Gandhi should be persuaded to continue notwithstanding her known disinclination for the job. (c) If the two are not willing then elections should be held to the presidency,” he added.
“The elected positions in the CWC should be filled through elections, the Congress Parliamentary Board should be revived, AICC sessions like in the past should be held bi-annually and the process of internal elections should be externally supervised like the IYC. However most importantly ideological and strategic clarity is imperative going forward,” Mr. Tewari had said.