A top leader, who is a signatory to the letter, had sent two letters to her earlier during the lockdown outlining the same concerns.
While there was no response to those letters, Gandhi is learnt to have spoken to Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad after the receipt of the third letter — signed by him as well as 22 others including four former Chief Ministers, many Congress Working Committee members, sitting MPs, and several former Union Ministers.
Gandhi, sources said, telephoned Azad and told him she was ready to discuss the concerns flagged in the letter but that meeting never took place.
Sources said the signatories never wanted the issues raised by them to be discussed by an extended or full Congress Working Committee including permanent and special invitees and the Chief Ministers. They had hoped for a select group of senior leaders or, at best, the main body of the CWC which has 21 members besides Gandhi and includes former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi.
But the response to the letter, after it was reported by The Indian Express on Sunday, and the chorus demanding the continuance of Sonia has surprised some of the signatories. Many told The Indian Express that they never challenged Sonia’s leadership. “There is nothing in the letter against which anybody should take offence to,” one of the signatories said.
“Of course, we are aware of her invaluable role, her steering the party to the two victories of 2004 and 2009 and her and her family’s sacrifices for the party, there is absolutely nothing but respect for her. The issues we raise are related to the party and its revival,” another leader said.
With several leaders and MPs writing to Sonia Gandhi Sunday urging her to continue, one of the signatories said: “We never asked and will never ask her to go. We were expecting that either a group of leaders sits with her or the main CWC to address these serious issues.”
“When you have a CWC with 50 odd people and that, too, over video conferencing… that will not do justice. This is not the way we wanted. We wanted to discuss in person,” said one signatory, who is not a member of the CWC. The leaders said they are not raring for a showdown in the CWC and pointed out that the letter does not convey any such intention.
But some leaders interpret her signal to step down as the return of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president. “From Sonia to Rahul after 20 years and then Rahul to Sonia and then Sonia to Rahul…how will the country take it? We respect her and have a huge regard for her…we are certainly not against her but at the same time we also need to understand how the country is thinking now,” a senior leader said. “How the party responds to our letter is also an indication of how serious it is about its future.”
Asked what would be the next step if the leadership ignores the letter, one signatory said: “We are not looking for posts or at the BJP; we have given our lives to the party and we will decide on what the next step will be. We don’t want to be known as those who let the party wither away and never did anything about it. There are colleagues who think nothing needs to be changed, that one day Modi’s popularity will fall, BJP will lose and the Congress will be back. We respect their view but we disagree, India is changing and we need to respond.”