Kick-starting an exercise to show their strength and garner more support, a group of senior leaders who have been demanding sweeping reforms in the Congress Saturday reiterated their call for a change at a joint public event in Jammu — their first such outing. The Congress responded by saying it would be better if the leaders instead campaigned in the Assembly election-bound states to strengthen the party’s hands.
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Senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Manish Tewari, Raj Babbar and Vivek Tankha attended the Jammu event, organised by the Gandhi Global Family, an organisation headed by Azad.
Sharma and Sibal said the Congress was getting weakened, with Sibal questioning why the Congress had not seen it fit to utilise the experience of a leader like Azad and let him retire from the Rajya Sabha. The leader of opposition in the Upper House, Azad’s term ended recently.
Azad, who returned to home ground J&K after more than a year, said he may have retired from the Rajya Sabha but was not retiring from politics.
Sibal claimed they had the support of not just people present at the meeting but that “there are many leaders outside who are with us”. He said the campaign to “strengthen the Congress” and “free the country of dictatorship” had begun from Jammu and would be taken to all parts of the country.
“It is an opportunity to tell the truth and I will tell the truth,” Sibal said. “Why have we assembled here today? The truth is that we see the Congress party is getting weakened… We have gathered together in the past as well… We have to strengthen the party together.”
Sibal said Azad knew the ground reality of the Congress in all the states and was like an experienced pilot and engineer flying a plane. “I felt sad when Azad was freed from Parliament… Hum nahin chahte thay ki Ghulam Nabi Azad saab ko Parliament se azaadi miley.”
Recounting Azad’s long years in politics, Sibal said, “There is not a single leader who he doesn’t know personally. When he was leader of the Opposition and he telephoned any leader, they would come to his place the next morning… I am not able to understand why the Congress is not making istemaal (use) of this experience.”
Countering the group of leaders at a press conference at the party headquarters in Delhi, Abhishek Singhvi listed out the posts Azad had held over the past four decades. “Those who used the word istamaal betray a certain lack of knowledge about the contemporary history of the Congress and the older history of the Congress.”
Echoing Sibal, Sharma, the deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, said, “Our voice is for the betterment of the Congress, for strengthening it in every state. The new generation should join. We have seen the good days of the Congress. We don’t want to see it weakening as we become old.”
On remarks thrown at them about the real Congress, Sharma said, “I have not given anyone that right (to say that)… All of us have covered a very long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody among us has been airdropped. We have not come through a window or a ventilator, all of us have walked through the door. We have come through the students’ and youth movement.”
Babbar said, “People are (calling us) G23. I am saying Gandhi 23… This G-23 wants the Congress to be strong.”
Criticising the BJP government at the Centre, the leaders said people were hit hard by rising prices and unemployment and called for “fight for another independence”. This fight will be waged from Jammu to Nagpur, they said.
Singhvi said at the press conference, “The best contribution to the Congress cause would be to get active, not in any manner amongst ourselves, but in the campaigns going on in the five states where the Congress is fighting elections.”
He added, “Each of the persons who are in Jammu or who have spoken are senior, highly respected members of our party and we are proud of them. I believe that they are equally proud members of the Congress. They are therefore part of this Congress family.”
On Sibal’s remarks that the Congress was not utilising Azad, Singhvi said Azad himself has never complained, and that the senior leader was proud of the history of the Congress and for holding “the Congress flag aloft for more than seven terms — five in the Rajya Sabha and two in the Lok Sabha — which is roughly 40 years”.
Singhvi pointed out that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had chosen Azad for Chief Minister of J&K and he had a very “successful tenure”. “Other people may be using his name… From Indira Gandhi’s time onwards Azad has been a respected central minister… over the same period of over three decades he has been a general secretary of the Congress and has exercised supervision over more than 15-20 states across the length and breadth of India. I could go on with these examples.”
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