AFTER the seven-hour-long stormy meeting of its Working Committee on Monday, the Congress acknowledged the letter sent to president Sonia Gandhi by 23 senior leaders calling for sweeping changes in the party but neither discussed its contents nor gave any specific commitments on the way forward.
Instead, most of those present at the meeting slammed the 23, questioned and criticised the intent and the timing of their letter even as they pledged loyalty to the Sonia-Rahul family and “resolved to strengthen their hands.”
Significantly, the resolution after the meeting said that the “two voices that have been at the forefront of exposing the government” are of Sonia and Rahul.
It is learnt that the party has decided to set up a committee to assist Sonia to look into “all issues,” including those raised by the 23 leaders. While Sonia will continue as interim party president for now, an AICC session is likely to be convened in the next four to six months to elect a new president.
The CWC meeting, held via video conference, came against the backdrop of Sonia’s tactical signal on Sunday that she was not keen to continue as the interim president. The meeting turned into a vote of confidence in Sonia’s leadership, and a reiteration of the party’s faith in the Nehru-Gandhi family.
As first reported by The Indian Express on Sunday, the unprecedented letter, signed by 23 party leaders, sought a “full time and effective leadership” which is both “visible” and “active” in the field; elections to the CWC; and the urgent establishment of an “institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively” guide the party’s revival.
At the meeting, the letter remained on paper. After Sonia conveyed at the outset that she was unwilling to continue, many asked Rahul Gandhi to take over. Sonia’s letter asking the CWC to “begin deliberation” to start the process to find a full-time president was read out by AICC general secretary in-charge of organisation, K C Venugopal.
Sources said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior leader A K Antony were the first to ask Sonia to continue in the top post till a full-time president is elected. Antony, considered close to Sonia Gandhi, attacked the dissenters saying the letter was “cruel” in nature.
Among those present at the meeting were four of the 23 who signed the letter – Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada.
The meeting saw a well-choreographed attack against the signatories, said sources. Rahul is learnt to have taken the lead, as he questioned the timing of the letter, arguing that it was sent at a time when the party was fighting to save its government in Rajasthan and when his mother was in hospital. He also suggested that a structure needs to be put in place to assist the party president in handling the party’s affairs and functioning till a new president is elected.
Importantly, Rahul is learnt to have said that Sonia’s continuation as interim president can’t be open-ended and a new president should be elected as early as possible. Both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are learnt to have said that the process to elect a new president should be carried out within six months.
Taking the cue from Rahul, leaders like Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Ambika Soni lashed out at the 23 signatories. Soni is learnt to have demanded disciplinary action against them and told Azad that he became Jammu and Kashmir chief minister because Sonia had campaigned in Srinagar, ignoring security concerns.
Sources said Chowdhury interjected when Azad defended the letter, saying “you should not try to defend the indefensible”. Speaking later, he asked the leaders who wrote the letter “what is the panacea you have at your disposal which may revive the party… you enjoyed proximity and accessibility to Sonia Gandhi and you thought it prudent to write the letter…”
Party veteran and AICC treasurer Ahmed Patel is learnt to have targeted Sharma, saying he had misinterpreted the concept of collective leadership and asked whether he meant that Sonia should sit at home. Patel told Sharma that he was considered to be an expert in drafting letters and asked him whether he had read the letter before signing it. He also asked Rahul to take over as Congress president.
Senior leader P Chidambaram neither referred to the letter nor said anything against those who had written it. He said there are certain issues which need to be addressed but did not elaborate.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav lashed out at Azad on the issue of collective leadership, asking whether he, as general secretary in-charge of Haryana, was not taking decisions without holding discussions with the state unit.
Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev asked when Sonia had not taken everyone’s opinion on important issues. AICC in-charge of Bihar, Shaktisinh Gohil, asked the 23 signatories to introspect.
Sonia, in her closing remarks, is learnt to have said that she doesn’t hold any “ill-will” against those who wrote the letter. “Let’s move ahead… what has happened has happened,” a leader quoted her as saying.
“We are a large family. We have differences and different views on many occasions, but in the end we come together as one. The need of the hour is to fight for the cause of the people and the forces that are failing this country… Organisational issues are always addressed and the process of constitution and reconstitution is a continuous one,” party communication department head Randeep Surjewala quoted her as saying.
“She said she does not hold ill will against any colleague, or any other thought of any other nature, for she treats them as part of the family, irrespective of how hurtful the remarks today, or in the past many years, of any colleague have been. She said she has always risen above them to keep the Congress family together and to fight for the cause of the people,” Surjewala said.
A resolution issued at the end of the meeting did not mention setting-up of the committee but said “the CWC authorises the Congress president to effect necessary organisational changes that she may deem appropriate to take on the challenges listed above.”
It said the CWC “takes note of the letter of Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, addressed to the General Secretary (Organisation) as also a letter written earlier by certain Congress leaders to the Congress president.”
The CWC unanimously requested Sonia to continue to lead the party “until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened,” it said. Venugopal said the AICC session will he held at the earliest but did not give any time frame.
The CWC said both Sonia and Rahul have inspired a generation of Indians, within and outside the party, to demand answers from this government.
The resolution said the “CWC, reflecting the overwhelming view and desire of the rank and file of the Congress, unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way. The CWC makes it clear that no one will be, or can be, permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture.”
Without naming the leaders, it said “the CWC notes that inner-party issues cannot be deliberated through the media or in public fora. The CWC urges and advises all concerned to raise such issues only in party fora in the interest of propriety and discipline.”