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Sonia Gandhi reaches out to Ghulam Nabi Azad, G-23 leaders push for ‘inclusive leadership’

Some of the G-23 leaders met at Azad's residence over dinner on Wednesday.

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: March 17, 2022 3:57:33 pm
Congress leaders Prithviraj Chavan, Shashi Tharoor and Kapil Sibal leave from the residence of party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, after the Congress G-23 leaders' meeting in New Delhi. (Express/Anil Sharma)

In the first contact between the Congress leadership and the dissident G-23 group after the rout in the recent Assembly polls, party chief Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have spoken to senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. While sources said a meeting between Sonia and some of the leaders was on the cards, the G-23 leaders said the “only way forward” for the party was to adopt a model of “collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels.”

Some of the G-23 leaders met at Azad’s residence over dinner on Wednesday. There were three new entrants — veteran leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, Lok Sabha MP and former Punjab CM Amarinder Singh’s wife Preneet Kaur, and Gujarat leader Shankarsinh Vaghela, who quit the Congress in 2017. Vaghela joined the NCP in 2019, but left last year. He is reported to be keen to return to the Congress.

And for the first time, they made the meeting official by issuing a statement signed by 18 leaders. “We the… members of the Congress party met to deliberate on the demoralising outcome of the recent results of the Assembly elections and the constant exodus of both our workers and leaders. We believe that the only way forward is for the Congress party to adopt the model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels,” the statement said.

“In order to oppose the BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress party. We demand the Congress party to initiate dialogue with other like-minded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024,” it said.

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Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Raj Babbar, Vaghela, Aiyar, Shashi Tharoor, P J Kurien, M A Khan, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Sandeep Dikshit, Kuldeep Sharma, Vivek Tankha and Preneet Kaur were among the signatories.

Congress leader Manish Tewari was one among the signatories. (Express/Anil Sharma)

“We are not going to leave the Congress until we are thrown out. We will keep insisting that there has to be democratisation of the party. And to democratise the party and build a credible alternative to the BJP for 2024, we will be traveling across the country to mobilise public opinion on the above objectives,” a party leader who attended the meeting told The Indian Express.


Middle path

The G-23 leaders have not taken a maximalist position seeking a leadership change, which may not have many takers and could isolate them in the party. By pushing for collective leadership, they are hoping to draw more support from within the party to force the leadership to sit up and take note.

While the G-23 meeting was underway, the Congress announced that Sonia had deputed five leaders — Rajya Sabha MP Rajani Patil in Goa, Jairam Ramesh in Manipur, Ajay Maken in Punjab, Jitendra Singh in Uttar Pradesh and Avinash Pande in Uttarakhand — to assess the post-poll situation and suggest organisational changes.

A G-23 leader said the “meeting has unanimously deplored that those people who were responsible for scripting the defeat have been appointed to assess the post-poll situation. This clearly shows that the leadership is not serious about actually reforming anything at all.”

While the party leadership is said to be upset with senior leader Kapil Sibal for suggesting that the Gandhis should step aside, Sonia’s outreach is seen as an attempt to break the ice and see whether the ballooning internal crisis can be resolved.

Meanwhile, Congress leaders who back the Gandhis stepped up their attack on Sibal. Leader of the Opposition in RS Mallikarjun Kharge accused the G-23 leaders of trying to break the party by continuing to hold meetings even after the CWC discussed all the issues at its recent meeting.

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