Over four months after the Congress set in motion the process of holding election for appointment of a new president, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) Friday unanimously put off the exercise till June in view of the forthcoming Assembly elections, but not before the virtual meeting saw a heated exchange between veteran leaders Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Ambika Soni on one side and Anand Sharma on the other.
Sharma is one of the 23 senior leaders who had written an unprecedented letter to Sonia Gandhi in July demanding sweeping changes in the party, including elections to the CWC.
Sources said Rahul Gandhi intervened to say harsh words should not have been used by either side, and added that the issue of farmers’ agitation was more important and the leadership issue would be settled when the organisational elections take place.
The CWC met to approve the schedule and modalities of organisational elections. Sources said Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the23 signatories to the letter, said that elections be held both for the CWC and the Central Election Committee, a key body which finalises the party’s candidates for various elections, as provided by the party constitution. The remarks left both Gehlot and Soni agitated.
Significantly, senior leader P Chidambaram backed Azad, as did Mukul Wasnik, who even explained the provisions in the Congress constitution regarding holding of elections to the CEC.
After the meeting, AICC general secretary in-charge of organisation K C Venugopal told reporters that the party was willing to hold elections to the CWC — which were last held when Sonia Gandhi took over as Congress president in 1998. He also said the CWC had decided that the party will have a “new, elected” president by June “at any cost.”
IT'S been more than six months since 23 leaders of the Congress wrote an unprecedented letter to Sonia Gandhi seeking sweeping changes in the party. As it puts off elections to party president by another six months, the limbo in the Congress clearly continues.
However, Venugopal added, “As per our constitution, (a) little clarity is needed over whether the Congress president election and Working Committee can be together, or that after the Congress president election, Working Committee election has to be held… Definitely, according to that, election will be held. We are not saying that the CWC election will not be there… As per the practice, first the Congress president election is held and thereafter the CWC election. That is the usual practice. We need clarity on that.”
Interestingly, in her opening address, Sonia said the schedule and modalities for organisational elections had to get the CWC’s approval. After this, discussions began on the schedule sent by Madhusudan Mistry, who had been appointed chairperson of the Central Election Authority in August.
Sources said that soon after Azad and Chidambaram suggested at the meeting that elections be held to the CEC as well, Soni questioned the insistence on holding elections and pointed out that elections were not held in the BJP as well. She said the need of the hour was to take on the BJP. Gehlot joined her, and in a full-blown attack on those seeking elections, asked whether they didn’t have faith in Sonia’s leadership. “Why are elections being brought up every now and then?” he asked.
At one point, he is learnt to have questioned the locus standi of those seeking elections.
One leader said Gehlot used very harsh words, seen as directed at Azad. “He said, ‘Kaun pehchante hain aapko (Who recognises you)? What is your identity, your place? Nobody recognises you’.”
Sources said Sharma hit back, telling Gehlot, “Nobody has given you the right to be disrespectful.” He also pointed out that Gehlot and he both owe “everything” to the party, and had known each other and been in the party for over four decades, signalling he was as much a Congressman as Gehlot. Sharma said there can be different perceptions and views, but there was a way to have a discussion. Rahul said he understood the viewpoints of both Gehlot and Sharma.
Sources said many leaders, including Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and A K Antony, demanded that party elections be rescheduled in view of Assembly polls.
Addressing the press conference along with Venugopal, Congress communication department in-charge Randeep Surjewala denied there was any “uttejana (excitement)” or “vaad-vivaad (disagreement)” at the CWC meeting, and said the talk of sparring between leaders was “mere rumours”.
The Congress also raised questions on the vaccination drive, arguing that “there is complete lack of clarity” about its availability. It said no timeline has been laid out for the programme beyond the first 3 crore people. The party demanded that the vaccine be administered for free to under-privileged and marginalised sections.