Days after Ghulam Nabi Azad declined the leadership of the Congress’s campaign committee in Jammu and Kashmir, senior leader Anand Sharma resigned as chairman of the party’s steering committee for Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections on Sunday. The decisions by the two leaders of the G23 group come even as the Congress begins the countdown for election of its next president.
The timing of Sharma’s decision is interesting as it brings back focus on the G23 group amid a silence by the leadership on the election process, the one-month window for which began today. Some of the leaders of the group said Sharma’s resignation and Azad’s decision to decline the chairmanship of the campaign committee were not “coincidental”.
I have resigned with a heavy heart from the Chairmanship of the Steering Committee of the Congress for the Himachal Elections. Reiterating that I am a lifelong congressman and remain firm on my convictions. 1/2
— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) August 21, 2022
“Do you think they are coincidental? They are straws in the wind…precursor to a larger crisis which is waiting to burst open,” said a senior party leader. While sources close to Sharma said he was feeling “humiliated” by the “continuing insults and deliberate exclusions”, a party leader said “everything was part of a calibrated strategy to rid the AICC” of what he called the clutches of the “cabal”.
In his letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, conveying his decision to quit, Sharma is learnt to have pointed out that he was “neither informed nor invited” for the meetings of the core group of the Himachal Congress and senior leaders on election strategy and preparations held in Delhi and Shimla recently.
“I have resigned with a heavy heart from the chairmanship of the steering committee of the Congress for the Himachal elections. Reiterating that I am a lifelong Congressman and remain firm on my convictions. Committed to Congress ideology that runs in my blood, let there be no doubts about this. However, given the continuing exclusion and insults, as a self-respecting person — I was left with no choice,” Sharma tweeted.
Sharma was appointed head of the 10-member steering committee for Himachal Pradesh in April. His appointment was among the poll committees — and a new state Congress president — announced by the party then as part of the preparations for the Assembly elections scheduled to take place at the end of this year.
The committee headed by Sharma had former AICC in-charge of Punjab Asha Kumari as convenor and included senior leaders like Kaul Singh Thakur, Ram Lal Thakur, Harshwardhan Chouhan and Dhani Ram Shandil as members. The PCC president, CLP leader and campaign committee chief were permanent invitees to the committee.
Since then, the party has appointed Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel as senior observer for Himachal Pradesh with Punjab Leader of the Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa and Rajasthan leader Sachin Pilot as his observers assisting him. Baghel and the observers have held meetings in Delhi as well as Shimla but Sharma was not invited. “There was no clarity on his role from day one,” said a party leader.
“The multiplicity of committees and overlapping of functions required clarity for functional purposes. I had requested General Secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal and AICC in-charge Rajiv Shukla to clarify the mandate of the steering committee to delineate the mandate and role of the steering committee,” Sharma wrote in his letter to Sonia.
On June 20, meetings of the senior leaders including PCC president Pratibha Singh, CLP leader Mukesh Agnihotri, chairman of the campaign committee Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and heads of the other election-related committees were held to take stock of the preparations. On August 7 and 8, Shukla and the central observers visited Shimla and meetings of the core group were convened.
“The chairman of the steering committee was neither informed nor invited for any of these meetings,” Sharma is learnt to have written. Arguing that the “continuing insults and deliberate exclusions” were not acceptable, Sharma is learnt to have told Sonia that “self-respect” was “non-negotiable” for him.
While Sharma has posited his resignation in the context of the treatment meted out to him, party leaders said it was part of a larger churn in the party in the context of the presidential elections. “There will be more such outbursts in the coming days,” said a party leader.
With ENS, Shimla