Ahead of Monday’s Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting that is likely to witness a veiled attack on party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning and a frontal one on his close aides for the way they caused the party’s decimation in the Lok Sabha elections, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, on Sunday sought to preempt any direct or indirect attack on the family, saying that “all, including myself” were responsible for the party’s debacle.
“How can you blame any individual for this result? It is the collective responsibility of both the party and the government. All, including myself, are responsible for the party’s loss,” Patel told The Indian Express when asked about party leaders’ resentment at the way Rahul ran the election campaign.
Patel’s remarks assume significance given that many senior leaders are learnt to be waiting for the CWC meeting to vent their anger and frustration with the way Team Rahul has run the party since he took over as vice-president in January last year. Anil Shastri, special invitee to the CWC, is learnt to have even shot off a letter to Rahul pointing out the flaws in the campaign strategy formulated and executed by his team.
Many senior leaders like Sushil Kumar Shinde sought to play it safe saying they would speak after the CWC meeting. “I have my views but I will express them later,” said Salman Khurshid.
According to party sources, there are already rumblings in Rahul’s team, with his aides trying to blame each other. While party sources targeted Rahul’s close aide Kanishka Singh for “misleading” him — about the party’s prospects and the poll strategy in terms of selection of candidates, campaign plan and deployment of resources — and blocking party leaders’ “access” to the Congress vice-president, another section targeted Mohan Gopal, Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies, who was reported to be calling the shots in the team.
“Remember that Mohan Gopal was the NSUI president in 1977 and yet Rahul chose him as his key advisor,” said a Congress leader, adding that Gopal had “totally replaced” Jairam Ramesh who did not play much role in election management, including in planning Rahul’s rallies and speeches, “unlike in 2004 and 2009 elections”.
Some CWC members also expressed disagreement with the party leadership’s decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, which resulted in the party being routed from a state in which it had won 33 seats in 2009. Sources said many senior leaders including A K Antony and Digvijaya Singh had opposed the creation of Telangana, but Sonia had gone along with the view of Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had argued that the party would do well in Telangana as K Chandrasekhar Rao had given him the word that he would merge the TRS with the Congress after the creation of the new state.
Congress sources confided that there had been “a thinking” in the top party leadership that if the party did “decently” in the Lok Sabha elections, Sonia could hand over the reins of the party to Rahul. “Given the anger against him after this result, she may have to postpone her retirement plans for we don’t know how long,” said a Congress leader.
Asked about the possibility of Sonia and Rahul offering to resign at the CWC meeting, sources said, “It would be better if they don’t. Because if they do and then withdraw it after the well-rehearsed emotional outbursts by senior leaders, it will look like a drama. It will not go down well with the people, including Congressmen.”
Meanwhile, senior leader Kamal Nath called for elections to the CWC. “We should have a working committee which is elected, and Rahul Gandhi has been saying this for the last two years. All those who oppose this to protect themselves are causing immense damage… We should have an elected working committee, then this culture of people who are bestowed with patronage is going to an end,” he said in an interview to NDTV.
Nath also said state units should be given more autonomy. “We should not try and control it from Delhi… empower the state organisations. If a smallest decision related to state organisation is to be taken from Delhi, it doesn’t work,” he said.
He said outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have been “more loud”. “He should have become more forthright. Because he was above all this corruption… he could have become more loud… explaning these things,” he said.
Arguing against any resignation by Sonia or Rahul, he said, “The responsibility is of the government, the responsibiity is of the state leaders”.