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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Congress crisis: Under fire, dissenters stand firm, later dial down to wait and watch

Soon after the meeting, at least nine of the signatories, including Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, met at Azad’s residence.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Updated: August 25, 2020 2:55:51 pm

STANDING FIRM in the face of sharp attacks at the Congress Working Committee meeting Monday, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada — the four CWC members who were among the 23 leaders to sign the unprecedented letter written to party president Sonia Gandhi — argued forcefully that the issues raised by them need discussion and redressal, The Indian Express has learnt.

Soon after the meeting, at least nine of the signatories, including Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, met at Azad’s residence. Sharma told The Indian Express that “the co-signatories were keen to know about the deliberations” and that “everybody is satisfied”.

“It was a free and frank discussion (in the CWC). The document (letter) was not available for all CWC members. There were a lot of misreadings and misinterpretations, which led to some uncharitable comments made against us. I demanded that it should be made available to everyone and released to the public so that people know what the issues are,” Sharma said.

Read | Rallying behind Sonia and Rahul, CWC slams both letter and its spirit

Referring to the CWC e-meeting, he said: “Azad, Wasnik and I put forth our views. The Congress president’s concluding statement was most gracious, giving a clear message of reconciliation, saying let whatever has happened be behind us and let’s be united and move forward. She said even if I was hurt by a leak of some excerpts, these are my valued colleagues. We respect her and this has brought it to a very amicable closure.” Another signatory said: “We need to wait and watch how this pans out.”

At the CWC meeting earlier, the signatories made it clear that they were not against Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, and pointed out there was nothing against the two in the five-page letter, the contents of which were first reported by The Indian Express Sunday.

Sources said former party chief Rahul set the tone for others by questioning the timing of the letter, and arguing that it was sent when the party was battling to save its government in Rajasthan and his mother was in hospital.

Azad responded that the letter was held back for 10 days, until six days after Sonia’s return from hospital. Azad said he repeatedly tried to get in touch with the party chief, and that the letter was sent only after it was conveyed by her office that her health was fine. Azad, sources said, told the meeting that the timing was merely to mark one year since Sonia was appointed interim Congress president on August 10 last year.

Azad and Sharma dismissed allegations that they were against the Gandhis and pointed out that the letter makes it clear that the Nehru-Gandhi family would always be an “integral part” of the collective leadership.

They said almost half of the letter is “against the BJP/RSS” and that there are three paragraphs recounting contributions to the party from Jawaharlal Nehru to Sonia and Rahul. But, they said, there are issues that need to be addressed. “Is it a crime to raise these issues?” Sharma is learnt to have asked.

Azad said it was being said by “some persons” outside the CWC that the letter was sent at the behest of the BJP. He said he would resign “here and now” if that charge was proved.

Later, speaking to The Indian Express, Azad said: “Some Congress persons wrote yesterday that we are doing this at the behest of the BJP….I said those people who are outside the CWC who are making these allegations should prove it and I will resign if they prove it.”

At the meeting, Sharma said they have been “lifelong Congressmen” and that there are very few in the party who can match their credentials. Sharma said he and Azad stood with Indira Gandhi in 1978 when the party split, and many leaders betrayed and abused her. He said they fought with Sanjay Gandhi and went to jail. “Many of them were beaten up…some of us still carry those injury marks,” he is learnt to have said.

Sharma said their conviction is being questioned by those who had left the Congress and returned to rediscover its virtues like “political tourists”.

Wasnik said they have been “put in the dock” as if they were criminals, and asked: “Is writing a letter a crime?”

Azad and Sharma said “you may discuss with us and disagree with us” on the issues raised “but don’t malign us”. They said the issues are vital for the revival of the party. The country, they said, are facing many challenges and only a united and re-energised Congress can confront the BJP/RSS.

With Ambika Soni demanding action against them, Sharma said if raising bonafide issues like collective decision-making or the constitution of a Parliamentary Board within the party is indiscipline or an act of treason, they are prepared to face action. “Take action now,” he is learnt to have said.

Sharma asked what was wrong in seeking introspection for the party’s slide, which prompted AICC Bihar in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil to respond that those who have written the letter should introspect.

Azad also told The Indian Express that reports of Rahul accusing them of writing the letter at the behest of the BJP were wrong.

“Let me make it clear that Rahul Gandhi at no point of time said, either outside or in the CWC meeting, that the letter was written at the instance, or at the behest, or in collusion with the BJP,” he said.

“Our fight is not with Mrs Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. There are some issues, which we have raised. There is no fight inside the party. These are internal issues. Sometimes we discuss in the meeting, sometimes we write,” Azad said.

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