Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday set up three committees comprising top party leaders to help her formulate the party’s position on economic issues, foreign affairs and national security. Barring one or two, the panels are packed with the old guard, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and many former Union ministers.
Among the members are Azad, former union ministers Anand Sharma, M Veerappa Moily and Shashi Tharoor, who were signatories to the unprecedented letter a group of 23 leaders had written to Gandhi in August seeking sweeping changes in the party. The composition of the panels signals Gandhi’s continued reliance on veteran and experienced leaders when it comes to deliberating on serious policy matters.
The setting up of the panels, significantly, came days after top party leaders spoke in different voices on India staying out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. Even on the issue of restoration of Article 370, the view in the party had been divided.
By including four senior leaders, who had raised serious questions on the functioning of the party in the letter, Gandhi has once again signaled that she does not hold any ill-will against them. It is also seen as an attempt to ensure that the rumblings in the party, which resurfaced after the Congress’s poor performance in the Bihar elections and the assembly bye-elections, do not gather momentum.
But the leaders who wrote the letter to Gandhi are not enthused by the move. “I am not enthused but amused… the issues that we had raised remain unaddressed and the party is in a state of drift,” one of the senior leaders who has been included in the panels told The Indian Express.
When contacted, another leader said, “Instead of addressing organisational matters, we are asked to look at policy issues… the party already has the forums and the in-house expertise to give inputs to the Congress president on any development and involving the former Prime Minister in this exercise is belittling the office he held.”
Former Prime Minister Singh has been included in all three panels. Besides him, the members of the committee on economic affairs are former finance minister P Chidambaram, former leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Former union minister Jairam Ramesh will be the convener of the group.
Sharma, Tharoor, former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid and young Lok Sabha MP from Odisha Saptagiri Ulaka have been made members of the panel on foreign affairs. Khurshid will be the convener of the panel. Sharma is the head of the party’s foreign affairs department.
Azad, Moily, former Lok Sabha MP Vincent Pala and Lok Sabha MP and former chief minister of Puducherry V Vaithilingam have been named members of the panel on national security.
The notable omissions from the panels are former Defence Minister A K Antony and veteran Congress leader Ahmed Patel. Both are members of the committee set up by the Congress president to assist her.
Sonia, Rahul fly down to Goa
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul flew down to Goa on Friday on a personal visit. While the party officially was tight-lipped about their travel plans and duration of their stay in Goa, sources said Sonia will be in the state for a few days since her doctors have advised her to be away from the heavy pollution in Delhi in view of her chronic chest infection. Sonia will be in Goa till the air quality in Delhi improves, leaders said. ENS
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