In a sign of deepening fault lines within the Congress, the group of 23 leaders (G-23) on Wednesday met at former Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s residence here to discuss the party’s debacle in the recent Assembly polls and declared that “collective and inclusive leadership is the only way forward”.
Sources told The Hindu that Mr. Azad spoke with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and might follow up with a meeting on Thursday.
“We believe that the only way forward for the Congress is to adopt a model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision making at all levels. In order to oppose the BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress. We demand the Congress to initiate a dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024,” the G-23 joint statement said.
‘CWC not consulted’
Sources said the statement could be interpreted as the group expressing its lack of faith in Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. In the meeting, the leaders also discussed the party taking major policy decisions such as announcing 40% seats for women in Uttar Pradesh and changing Captain (retired) Amarinder Singh as Punjab Chief Minister without consulting the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Though there was no independent confirmation, sources claimed, the G-23 is likely to reiterate its demand for reconstituting the Central Election Committee, the All India Congress Committee, the CWC and put a consensus candidate as general secretary (organisation) in place of incumbent K.C. Venugopal.
Wednesday’s meeting of the group, described either as reformists or dissenters, included leaders beyond those who had written a letter to Ms. Gandhi in August 2020 to press for sweeping changes. The addition to the list included one-time Gandhi family loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar, Lok Sabha member Preneet Kaur, former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankar Singh Vaghela and former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma.
Other G-23 leaders like Shashi Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan, P.J. Kurien, Vivek Tankha and Sandeep Dikshit also joined, apart from regulars Manish Tewari, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Raj Babbar.
Sources said though the group had earlier planned to meet at Mr. Sibal’s residence, it was changed at the last minute, possibly to avoid further confrontation after Mr. Sibal’s direct attack on the Gandhis with his public statement that the Gandhi family should step aside.
As the G-23 chalk out its next strategy with a show of strength, voices within the Congress grew louder on taking disciplinary action against some of the key members.
Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said the group’s actions were aimed at weakening the party. “Let them do 100 meetings. No one can weaken Sonia Gandhi ji. The Congress party is with her from the streets to Delhi. These people will continue to meet and give speeches,” he said.
‘Trying to break party’
Mr. Kharge said, “Sonia Gandhi is taking all steps that have been discussed at the Congress Working Committee. If they still speak like this, it means they are trying to break the party.”
The Congress’ Chandni Chowk district unit, from where Mr. Sibal used to contest Lok Sabha elections, passed a resolution requesting Ms. Gandhi to take disciplinary action against the former Union Minister.
Though there were no signs of any such action, Ms. Gandhi met with the MPs from Punjab to review the party’s crushing defeat.
Sources claimed that the majority of the MPs had cited as reasons wrong ticket distribution by Punjab in-charge Harish Chaudhary; former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Navjot Singh Sidhu’s frequent statements against his own government; allegations of corruption against former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi; and sabotage against party candidates by him [Mr. Channi].
Later in the evening, a day after asking the PCC chiefs of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa to resign, the Congress announced a fresh set of names to suggest organisational changes in these States. They include Jairam Ramesh (Manipur), Jitendra Singh (Uttar Pradesh), Avinash Pandey (Uttarakhand), Rajani Patel (Goa), and Ajay Maken (Punjab).