Even as the contents of the A K Antony committee report remain confidential, the divide has sharpened within the Congress amid reports that it absolves the party high command, with two senior Congress leaders and former union ministers coming out forcefully on either side of the issue — one, criticising the report and the other, defending it.
The Antony committee, set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to analyse the reasons for the party’s worst-ever defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, submitted its report last week, giving a clean chit to the top leadership, including Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who was the face of the party’s campaign. Antony made it clear that there was “no criticism about the party leadership” in his report. According to sources, the report is critical of the government on issues like price rise and corruption.
“There are no two ways about the fact that the report should examine the role of the top leadership, including that of senior general secretaries who were in charge of various states. His (Rahul) role should be analysed, along with that of other senior leaders. The crux of the whole issue is that Congress has become an oligarchical party and that needs to change. If the report does not deal with that, then it has not gone into the core of the issue at all,” former tribal affairs and panchayati raj minister V Kishore Chandra Deo told The Indian Express.
“The main issue is where the party went wrong and how the leadership could have done things differently. If that has been skirted, the report serves no purpose,” Deo said. “We’ve had reports earlier. Nothing has happened. Committees are set up and reports issued for two reasons — to cover up or to bring out the truth. In Congress, the reports serve neither purpose. In the past, in our system in the party, what has happened is a report is prepared and then there are meetings with selected people and ultimately, all solid matter is dropped,” said the senior party leader.
However, former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said there was no reason why the report should question the role of the top leadership. “The leadership and party are not two separate things. It is the Congress party that lost, we can’t say the leadership lost. We can’t take just one dimension (leadership) and say that it failed. It is the totality of the campaign that failed,” he told The Indian Express.
“While we do need to reflect within the party, this is the time to stand solidly with our leaders since we have faith our leadership will deliver. The leadership can’t be judged merely by one election. For people like me, we owe a great deal to the leadership that everyone is attacking,” Khurshid said. Both leaders, however, clarified they had not seen the report.
Meanwhile, Rahul’s key aides defended the report, saying the criticism that it does not question his role is “unjustified”. “The demand that the A K Antony committee report must blame the top leadership reflects a prejudice and pre-judgement. The committee report reflects the views of people in the party from across the country. The criticism that it does not blame the high command is motivated and unjustified,” said a senior and close aide of Rahul.
“Can you blame the head of the Malaysian airline for its jetliner MH17 being shot down over Ukraine? How then can you blame him (Rahul) for the party’s defeat?” he asked, pointing out that “external factors” were largely responsible and the leadership had in fact, helped soften the blow.