Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and most senior among the 23 signatories on the letter sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi early this month, said Wednesday that he is ready to wait for six months until the appointment of a full-time party chief to address all issues raised by them.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Azad also said that if Sonia asks him to become a member of the committee that the party is likely to set up to look into the issues raised in the letter, he would be happy to do so.
Azad said that as a Congressman, he is not “bothered” whether Rahul Gandhi becomes the next president, or anyone else, and instead would “be happy” that the party has finally got a fulltime chief.
Asked how he and the co-signatories are planning to take the letter forward, he said: “There is no question of taking it forward, at the moment.” The crux, he said, was that “there should be a full-time president, whosoever that may be… we are not talking A, B, C, D… anybody” — and that there should be an elected Congress Working Committee, state presidents, district presidents and block presidents, and a Parliamentary Board.
“We have achieved one (of the goals) in the CWC because it has been decided that within six months…the AICC session will take place and a full-time president will be elected. At least, we are happy that Mrs Gandhi is there. Otherwise, there would have been some third person for another one or two years as interim president and who knows after that, there would have been a fourth as interim president,” Azad said.
“So, at least, it has been agreed upon that the need of the hour is a full-time president…whosoever that will be, we have no objection. We are not candidates for president. We only want a full-fledged, permanent president,” he said.
As for other suggestions like organisational elections, he said, “It will not be fair on our part to ask Mrs Gandhi to do it, because we have decided to hold an election within six months and have a permanent president. How can she, in this period, conduct block and district and PCC elections? It takes at least one year… we will have to take up this issue with the new president.”
Azad said he was ready to wait for six months as “the heavens are not going to fall”. “We have waited for 23 years, what is the problem in waiting for six more months,” he said.
Asked about the formation of a committee to assist the Congress president or to look into the issues raised, he said “that was decided”. “But that is for the Congress president to consider. Even if the committee is constituted right now, that will be implemented by the next president only.” So would he join if asked to, he said, “Yes, why not? We are one party under one president. Raising issues does not mean that we are not one party.”
Asked about the party leadership, with Sonia Gandhi keen to step down and Rahul reluctant to take over, Azad said, “As a Congress worker, I am not bothered who will be president. I will be happy whosoever is elected by majority because the president’s election takes place by vote. And in a democracy, anybody can stand up and whosoever with the required number will win, and that will be acceptable to us, at least it will be acceptable to me.”
On the isolation within the party of those who signed the letter, he said, “The Working Committee was of 22 members, but 60 people were called. This should have been discussed in the Working Committee of 22 people, not with special invitees, permanent invitees and no invitees. We don’t hold any grudge. We wanted to raise issues to strengthen the party… We are happy that the Congress president and Rahul Gandhi have said they hold no grudge.”
Rahul and Sonia spoke to Azad after the CWC meeting Monday, a day after The Indian Express first reported on the contents of the letter.
Asked whether he was surprised that the letter was not circulated or its contents discussed at the CWC, Azad said, “If only 22 people were there, including the Congress president and past president, there would have been a discussion. In the crowd of 60 people, who are not members of the Working Committee, you cannot discuss these things.”
On whether the signatories had reached out to colleagues to convince them about the merits of the letter, he said, “Why should we? It was to draw the attention of the Congress president, which we have done. It is not some campaign within the party or about making some extra group or parallel group. We are a united party. We are responsible people. We are not making any ginger group or separate group.”
On the criticism levelled against them, Azad said, “Unfortunately, some people have hardly any connect or are too junior, who don’t know how the Congress has been functioning, its Constitution or the sacrifices made by us…a few of them were not even born and a few of them were in school when people like us were in charge of Punjab and were fighting the militancy 35-40 years ago. They were questioning our leadership and what we were doing.”
On criticism that he signed the letter because he was retiring from Rajya Sabha and the party did not field him from Karnataka in June, the only seat it can win before his term ends in February, the former J&K Chief Minister said, “This is stupid and is being said by small-minded people who do not know who Ghulam Nabi Azad is.”
“I am retiring. Sonia Gandhi has nothing to do with my retirement. It is the BJP government, which is not conducting elections in my state. I am not an MP from Maharashtra, UP or Bihar or Rajasthan, I have been an MP from J&K since 1996. For J&K, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi are not at fault. Had there been an election (in J&K) and had there been MLAs and had she not given me a ticket, I would have held a grudge.”