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Cuts across states, age: Why it’s hard for Congress to brush the pushback under carpet

The first showdown is expected at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) called Monday as many leaders across the divide say it will be difficult to brush this under the carpet.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: August 24, 2020 12:31:56 pm
Congress president Sonia Gandhi with her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi (Express photo/Renuka Puri)

The unprecedented letter by 23 senior Congress leaders has drawn the battle lines in the party like never before.

The first showdown is expected at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) called Monday as many leaders across the divide say it will be difficult to brush this under the carpet. Sources said a “major organisational reshuffle” is being planned as a counter move.

That may not be enough.

For, it is rare for Congress leaders, especially seniors, to put down on record their criticism – this has always been seen as a “last resort.” The letter is also seen by many as a major pushback to the Nehru-Gandhi family, again an unusual move in contemporary Congress history.

The timing, context and the content of the letter is as significant as is the cast of characters.

The signatories include five former Chief Ministers; over a dozen former union ministers and former PCC presidents. Taken together, they cut across states and the age divide and form the biggest grouping of party functionaries in recent times to put on record their concerns about the state of affairs in the party. It will be difficult for the leadership to ignore them given the political heft and weight many of them carry.

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The letter and the crisis it signifies is different from earlier crises. Say, in 1969, when Indira Gandhi took on the Syndicate or in the late ‘80s when V P Singh locked horns with Rajiv Gandhi and left the party; post-Emergency when many like Jagjivan Ram left the party or the one faced by the Congress in late 1990s when warring leaders joined hands to oust Sitaram Kesri to make way for Sonia Gandhi.

This time, the party is at its weakest, its popularity and electoral performance has hit a nadir. There is a widespread perception – even among Congress supporters — that the party is adrift and the leadership is rudderless. Many may join the chorus which may put pressure on the family. The letter, for instance, was written in the first week of August when the Sachin Pilot-Ashok Gehlot tussle was raging.

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This may not be a revolt yet but the decision of these leaders, including some seniors, to come together and form a ginger group to draw the attention of the leadership has no parallel in the recent Congress history. Clearly, they are going for broke – knowing that their letter may invite disciplinary action. The letter does not mention Rahul Gandhi but argues the party must take an informed position on foreign policy, defence and national security matters.

Incidentally, many leaders in the party feel Gandhi’s frequent tweets, which had garnered attention and drew fierce attacks from the ruling BJP, on issues like the Chinese aggression have been “immature” and without any discussion in the party.

The signatories include many who have who have served the party for a “lifetime” and perhaps harbour no intention to exit or switch allegiances and many have risen up the ranks. So far, the Congress had been packaging dissent in the party as a young versus old faultline. The letter challenges that assumption signed as it is by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Hooda, Veerappa Moily and Kapil Sibal to Mukul Wasnik and Prithviraj Chavan and the younger brigade including Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora and Manish Tewari.

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