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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

G23 unravels as Kapil Sibal quits Congress, gets SP support for a Rajya Sabha ticket

The resignation of Sibal, one of the most trenchant critics of the Gandhis in the last two years, may also cripple the G23, the ginger group of senior leaders who had sent a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party's structure.

Written by Manoj C G , Asad Rehman | Lucknow, New Delhi |
Updated: May 26, 2022 4:56:54 am
Sibal with SP chief Akhilesh in Lucknow. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Two months after he openly asked the Gandhis to step aside from leadership roles, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal announced his resignation from the party and filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha as an Independent candidate supported by the Samajwadi Party (SP).

The resignation of Sibal, one of the most trenchant critics of the Gandhis in the last two years, may also cripple the G23, the ginger group of senior leaders who had sent a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi in August 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party’s structure.

On Wednesday, Sibal met Akhilesh in Lucknow and was accompanied by the SP chief as he filed his nomination papers at the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, where he announced his resignation from the Congress. “I resigned from the Congress on May 16 and am no longer a senior Congress leader,” he said.

Minutes later, speaking to The Indian Express, Sibal refused to comment on the reasons for his resignation, saying, “I have chosen to snap my ties with the Congress for reasons that I do not wish to talk about now. Now that I am not in the Congress party, I do not wish to say anything adverse, anything that is inconsistent with the culture of politics that we must embrace. Within the Congress, I could say what I wanted to say. Now that I am not in the Congress, I do not wish to criticise anybody in the Congress.”


3rd exit in a fortnight

While saying that he plans to unite the Opposition against the BJP government “which is following anti-people policies and which is dividing the inclusive culture of India”, Sibal, however, insisted that he hasn’t joined the SP. “Of course not (haven’t joined SP). How can I file a nomination as an Independent (then)? If you remember, I had made a public statement that I will never join any other political party… As an independent member, I hope to be an independent voice in the country.”

In the months and years since the G23’s letter to Sonia Gandhi, Sibal had emerged as a core member of the group, someone who rallied many of the dissident leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari.

As the most outspoken of the G23 leaders, some in the leadership are said to be heaving a sigh of relief at being spared his frequent acerbic attacks.

While his exit has led to talk that the G23 may end up as a much weaker pressure group and eventually disintegrate, opinion in the group remains divided.

“If Azad and Sharma don’t get the Rajya Sabha seats, there will be some problems. In that case, they may also take a call about their future in the party in the months ahead. But I don’t know the fate of the group. I think it is over. It is time to write the political obituary of the group. The G23 is in disarray. Some of the members seem to be inclined to work within the Congress, some seem to be inclined to find their own solution,” a G23 leader said.

Of the rebel leaders, Hooda has been placated by the leadership – his close confidant, Udai Bhan, has been appointed president of the Haryana Congress even as Hooda remains CLP leader, giving him control of the party in the state.

Sharma and Azad, who were on Tuesday made members of the largely toothless ‘political affairs’ group, are hopeful of Rajya Sabha berths. Then, there are Tharoor and Tewari – both Lok Sabha MPs who cannot afford to quit the party.

Sibal is the third G23 leader to leave the party – Jitin Prasada joined the BJP in June 2021 and Yoganand Shastri joined the NCP late last year.

“Sibal had no option left. He had taken an extreme position by arguing that the Gandhis should step aside. Since then, Azad, Sharma and Tharoor have been accommodated in one committee or the other. He probably thought that everyone is going to find their future inside or outside the Congress, that he should also chart out his own course. His timing was also influenced by the Rajya Sabha election,” another leader said.

Tharoor, in an interview to The Indian Express after the Chintan Shivir, had said that the shivir was the beginning of an important process and that he would prefer to wait and see how it unfolds over the next few months. The others have remained silent so far.

Another leader said Sibal’s exit was part of a well-planned strategy, and that he left the Congress with the consent of other G23 leaders. “Sibal’s departure is not surprising. In fact, it is part of a well-thought-out and calibrated strategy in order to create a larger and more viable option for 2024. The genesis of that strategy lies in the dinner which Sibal organised during the Budget Session of 2021. The broadest spectrum of Opposition leaders had assembled on his personal invitation and that represents the convening power of Sibal to be able to create his alternative,” a senior G23 leader on condition of anonymity said.

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Earlier, speaking to the media in Lucknow, Sibal said, “While being in Opposition, we want to create an alliance. We want that in 2024, an atmosphere is created where the faults with the Modi government reach the people. We will try for that.”

Eleven seats from UP are headed for Rajya Sabha elections on June 10, with the fight being between the ruling BJP and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Sibal’s RS term was to end on July 4.

Sibal’s association with the SP is not new. The party had supported his candidature to the Rajya Sabha in 2016 too. Sibal represented Akhilesh at the Election Commission during the tussle between him and Mulayam over the party symbol in 2017. Sibal was also Lalu’s lawyer in the fodder case.

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Sibal had also represented senior SP leader Azam Khan during his bail hearings in the Supreme Court.

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