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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Post-Udaipur’s Chintan Shivir, some sops for G23 leaders — but mostly on paper

Besides Azad and Sharma, the political affairs group has Rahul Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, CWC members Ambika Soni and Digvijaya Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of organisation K C Venugopal and AICC general secretary in charge of Assam Jitendra Singh.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: May 25, 2022 7:46:46 am
Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad in political affairs group; Shashi Tharoor in ‘Bharat Yatra’ planning group

Congress president Sonia Gandhi Tuesday included G23 leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma in a ‘political affairs group’ — the setting up of which was announced at the party’s Udaipur chintan shivir with a rider that it will not be a “collective decision making body” — while packing establishment favourites in a ‘task force’ for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The surprise inclusion in the task force is of election strategist Sunil Kanugolu.

The inclusion of Azad and Sharma — among the 23 leaders who had written a letter to Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party structure — in the advisory group, and not in the task force, sends a signal that they, as things stand now, may have little role in the party’s election management.

Congress G23’s Azad and Sharma in toothless advisory group

Besides Azad and Sharma, the political affairs group has Rahul Gandhi, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, CWC members Ambika Soni and Digvijaya Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of organisation K C Venugopal and AICC general secretary in charge of Assam Jitendra Singh. It is a major elevation for the young Singh, considered a key member of Team Rahul. Digvijaya Singh’s name in the group marks a return of the senior leader to the thick of action in Delhi.

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Now that Azad and Sharma have been included in the political affairs group headed by Sonia, it remains to be seen whether the two will be considered for Rajya Sabha seats. The party is in a position to get 9-10 seats in the biennial elections next month.

The political affairs group will, however, have no real powers. In Sonia’s own words, it will be an “advisory group” drawn from the CWC that will meet regularly to discuss and deliberate upon political issues and challenges before the party. “The new group is not, however, a collective decision-making body but will help me get the benefit of the vast experience of senior colleagues,” she had said in Udaipur.

Given that G23 leaders have been seeking a revival of the Parliamentary Board and adoption of a model of “collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels”, some of the leaders are not impressed with the new group.

“It means nothing. It is meaningless tokenism. It is a superficial exercise. Mrs Gandhi herself had made it clear that the group will only advise and it will not be a collective decision-making body…so it means nothing,” a member of the Congress Working Committee said.

The task force, on the other hand, is packed with leaders who are considered close to the leadership. Sonia had in her speech in Udaipur announced the setting up of the task force to drive internal reforms.

Its members are former finance minister P Chidambaram, Mukul Wasnik (another signatory to the G23 letter), Jairam
Ramesh, Venugopal, Ajay Maken, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Randeep Singh Surjewala and Kanugolu, who once worked with Prashant Kishor.

Although a signatory to the G23 letter, Wasnik is now closer to the Gandhis than to the reformist group. In fact, he did not attend the last meeting of the G23 held at Azad’s residence after the Assembly election rout of the Congress.

Kanugolu’s induction into the task force – which comes after the loss of face over Kishor turning down the party’s offer to join it – makes it clear that he will be part of the Congress’s campaign and election management efforts for 2024. Asked whether Kanugolu has joined the Congress, Surjewala said, “Yes, he is a member of the Congress party.”

The task force met in the afternoon and Surjewala said the group will now meet every week. He said the group will soon prepare a detailed “blueprint” on organisation, finances, media and communication strategy, grassroots connect and election management and submit it to the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress Working Committee.

The Congress said “each member of the task force shall be assigned specific tasks related to organisation,
communications and media, outreach, finance and election management. They shall have designated teams which will be notified subsequently. The task force will also follow up on the Udaipur Nav Sankalp Declaration and the reports of the six groups.”

In September 2020, in the wake of the furore generated by the G23’s letter to the Congress chief seeking sweeping changes in the party, Sonia Gandhi had constituted a six-member special committee to assist her in organisational and operational matters. The members of that group were A K Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, K C Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik and Randeep Singh Surjewala. That group now stands disbanded.

Antony, who used to be a regular in all such bodies, is missing from all the groups announced on Tuesday. He had last month announced his decision to slowly fade away from national politics.

On Tuesday, Sonia Gandhi also announced a central planning group for coordination of the Bharat Yatra which will begin on October 2. Members of the group are Digvijaya Singh, Sachin Pilot, Lok Sabha MPs Shashi Tharoor (another G23 member), Ravneet Singh Bittu, Jothi Mani, Pradyut Bordoloi, K J George, Jitu Patwari and Saleem Ahmed.

The yatra, to be led by Rahul, is expected to go on for four to five months as the aim is to traverse 3,500-odd kilometres across a dozen-odd states.

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