The Congress leadership stepped in Wednesday to draw curtains on the row over former Union minister Gurudas Kamat’s resignation from the party, with All India Congress Committee (AICC) chief Sonia Gandhi giving him an audience. Kamat was in Delhi on Wednesday.
While details of his meeting with Sonia could not be known, the Delhi leadership sought to mollify the AICC general secretary and member of the Congress Working Committee who announced his resignation from the party and retirement from active politics on June 6.
Calling Kamat’s contribution “very valuable”, party spokesman Ajoy Kumar told reporters in Delhi, “He is a very important, very valuable member of the Congress. He has a lot to contribute. We look forward to his continued contribution.”
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Kamat’s resignation has dealt a blow to the party in Maharashtra. In Mumbai, where he has a sizeable clout, it brought the internal rift and factionalism to the fore. Most Kamat supporters blamed Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam for their leader’s dejection with the party, with some openly criticising him.
Sensing trouble in the key state of Maharashtra, the party leadership is attempting to douse the row. Elections to the crucial Mumbai municipality are scheduled in February 2017.
On Tuesday, Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had tried to strike a conciliatory note, which was seen as the first sign of the party leadership reaching out to the former Mumbai unit chief. “Kamat is a very seasoned and experienced leader. He is integral part of the Congress family. I categorically and squarely reject reports that he has resigned from the party. He was, is and will always remain a part of the Congress family,” he had said, adding, “I am certain Congress leadership will discuss with him his future role and responsibility in the party so that it can benefit from his experience.”
There was no reaction from the party leadership in the state or the AICC on the day Kamat announced his retirement.
Sources said Kamat wanted a bigger say in the party affairs in Mumbai, where his known detractor Nirupam is currently holding fort. While the differences between the two leaders have constantly played out over the past year, sources said the latest trigger was the reorganisation of party’s internal structure in Mumbai. Kamat reportedly holds a grouse with the party leadership that his views on this restructuring weren’t taken on board. Indicating that Kamat’s resignation might just be political posturing, a senior leader said the former wanted Nirupam and AICC’s Maharashtra in-charge Mohan Prakash out. But with AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi putting his weight behind the Mumbai Congress chief, Nirupam’s ouster seems unlikely. The party leadership may, however, hold parleys with both to work out a middle ground.
Kamat issued an appeal to Congress workers Wednesday morning not to hold protests over his resignation and also told corporators in his camp against resigning in protest. Sources said he did this to avoid a perception that he was leading a rebellion within the party. Following his appeal, the Congress MLAs, corporators, and workers rallying in Kamat’s support at Azad Maidan curtailed their protest plans.
Also, there was hectic activity to keep the party flock together. Congress’s leader in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Pravin Chheda was directed to reach out to corporators. Nirupam, when contacted, confirmed this, saying Chheda had set base with 40 out of the 52 corporators.
Corporator Devendra Amberkar, a known Kamat loyalist whom Chheda replaced as the party’s leader in the BMC, however, lashed out at Nirupam. “He (Nirupam) is an autocrat. The Mumbai Congress under him is not taking decisions in a democratic fashion.” he said. Another senior corporator Sheetal Mhatre has also taken Kamat’s side.
The Azad Maidan rally saw some acting and former party legislators, including Baba Siddiqui, Rajhans Singh, Ashok Jadhav, Baldev Khosa, Janardan Chandarkur and Krishna Hegde, participate. While Hegde has publicly criticised the manner in which the organisational restructuring was carried out, the rest sought to appeal to Kamat to reconsider his resignation.
Nirupam, meanwhile, claimed that the restructuring had been done only on the basis of recommendations received from the party’s district-level leaders. “There could have been an exception made for one or two wards. But the appointments were all made on the basis of the recommendations of these leaders,” he said.