Updated: March 14, 2022 7:55:12 am
It was status quo once again in the Congress as the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s top decision-making body, met on Sunday to introspect its crushing defeat in the Assembly elections in five states and decided that Sonia Gandhi will continue as the party president till at least August-September, when elections for the Congress president are scheduled to take place.
It was also decided that a ‘Chintan Shivir’ or brainstorming session will be held after the Parliament session ends on April 8.
Sources said the meeting saw the all-too-familiar scenes of Sonia, the interim president, suggesting that she and her children were ready to do anything – read, stepping aside — if the party so wishes and the leaders, in turn, urging her to continue and reaffirming their faith in her leadership. They requested her to “lead from the front, address organisational weaknesses, and effect necessary and comprehensive organisational changes in order to take on the political challenges.”
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At the outset, Sonia is learnt to have said that if some people feel that the Gandhi family is responsible for the state of affairs and should step aside, she, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were ready to do any “sacrifice” for the party and will withdraw — an offer that immediately turned down by the members.
Rahul told the meeting that the party’s fight is with the BJP, which has a modern election machinery and the Congress should change itself to match the BJP’s machinery.
The party had on Saturday denied reports that the Gandhis could offer their resignations from leadership roles at the CWC meeting.
But there were also some frank exchanges at Sunday’s meeting.
For instance, Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the leaders of the grouping (G23) that had written to party chief Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party, said at the meeting that the CWC has in the past witnessed heated exchanges and even walkouts but, of late, suggestions to strengthen the party are frowned upon and insinuated as being given at the behest of the BJP.
He also questioned the timing of Amarinder Singh’s removal as Punjab chief minister, saying it came very late and should have happened at least a year ago. Sources said Sonia agreed that the decision was delayed and accepted it as her mistake.
Azad also said Harish Rawat should have been freed of his organisational responsibilities much earlier so that he could focus on Uttarakhand.
The meeting also saw some criticism of the leadership that were couched as suggestions.
Members including Digivijaya Singh, K H Muniyappa and Mukul Wasnik (a G23 member) are said to have told Rahul Gandhi that he should be more accessible. Azad, too, said both the new Congress president who takes over after the elections and state presidents should be “accessible, acceptable and accountable”.
Anand Sharma, another member of the G23 ginger group, said the practice of appointing working presidents along with Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) presidents was creating problems as it sends a signal that the state president is “non-working”. He also argued that the Congress has a culture of collective introspection and decision-making but of late, words such as introspection and accountability are interpreted as rebellion. He said those who come to the party from outside should not be appointed state presidents as these posts should go to those who are ideologically committed and have risen up the ranks.
Apparently referring to AICC in-charge of Uttarakhand Devender Yadav’s remark in his report – all the general secretaries and in-charges of the five states presented separate reports – about Rahul having participated in the Ganga aarti, Sharma said Congress should stop flirting with soft Hindutva.
The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party was a point of discussion. While Ambika Soni said the AAP’s juggernaut should be stopped, Sharma pointed out that the Congress is facing a big threat as the Opposition space is shrinking. Saying the AAP is making inroads in his home state of Himachal Pradesh, Sharma said the party should draw up a strategy for the 2024 general elections and other upcoming elections.
Party leader Ajay Maken was critical of Punjab PCC president Navjot Singh Sidhu, saying his constant snipes at Charanjit Singh Channi damaged the party’s prospects.
In its resolution, the CWC said the Assembly election outcome was a “cause of serious concern”. The party, it said, accepts that “due to shortcomings in our strategy, we could not effectively expose the misrule of BJP State Governments in four States and overcome the anti-incumbency in the State of Punjab in the short time after effecting a change of leadership”.
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the BJP was setting a trap by projecting members of the Gandhi family as “worthless” and warned the party against falling into that trap.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who spoke at the meeting, said many of the leaders who were called for campaigning in Uttar Pradesh did not come. She mentioned Sachin Pilot as among those who turned up for the party.
On Rahul taking over as the Congress president, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala, while talking to reporters after the meeting, said “every Congress worker and leader wants Rahul Gandhi to come forward and lead the party but the organisational election process is underway and the next Congress president would be decided through that process.”
Both Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his Rajasthan counterpart Ashok Gehlot expressed their readiness to host the Chintan Shivir in their respective states. Sources said the session could be held either in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh or Gujarat, which goes to Assembly elections at the end of the year.
Earlier, familiar scenes played out as some party leaders, including Gehlot and Karnataka Congress chief D K Shivakumar, called for Rahul to return to the helm.
As the CWC meeting progressed at 24, Akbar Road, the AICC headquarters, a group of Youth Congress workers assembled outside raising slogans in support of the Gandhis. They were joined by a group led by Delhi Congress leaders, including Alka Lamba.
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