FACING a slew of critical questions put on record by 23 senior leaders in an unprecedented letter to her, as reported by The Indian Express Sunday, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, ahead of the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting Monday, signalled she is “not willing” to continue as interim Congress president.
This set off a well-coordinated chorus of support for her and son Rahul Gandhi in the form of letters and statements from across state units led by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, his Chhattisgarh counterpart Bhupesh Baghel and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
The party’s leader in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, sent her a letter pledging full support to her and Rahul and so did several PCC chiefs: Kerala’s Mullappally Ramachandran; Karnataka’s D K Shivakumar; Tamil Nadu’s K S Alagiri; Punjab’s Sunil Jhakar; Maharashtra’s Balasaheb Thorat and Delhi’s Anil Chaudhary.
This show of support together with her signal to quit is being seen as an attempt to put pressure on the signatories to the letter who include Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Bhupender Hooda, Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan and Manish Tewari.
Almost all of them have worked closely with her over the years and have high regard for her. Many of them feel that if she steps down at this juncture, that would, effectively, mean clearing the way for the return of Rahul Gandhi or a leader handpicked by them. That’s not exactly what they had in mind when they asked for sweeping change, revamp of the party organisation, transparent elections and an “institutional collective leadership.”
Sources said a letter by Sonia Gandhi could also be read out at the CWC and any suggestion by her about quitting will be shot down given the composition of the top body.
“We write to you today with a heavy heart and in light of recent reports over concerns raised by some leaders about Congress’s leadership. We, the members of Parliament representing the length and breadth of the country, have heard and read with dismay and disbelief these claims being made…. We write to you today to tell you, unequivocally, that we have complete faith in your leadership…We know you are facing difficulties. Yet it is our humble appeal to you to continue to be our leader. The Congress is only safe in your hands or those of Rahul,” Chowdhury’s letter said.
The Delhi unit sent a letter to Sonia asking her to make Rahul the president. This was echoed by Thorat: “Come back Rahulji. Not only the Congress party but the entire country needs you.”
“I personally believe that it is only you and your family that can lead the party and only you can lead us all…If you feel that it is time to pass on the mantle of leadership you may do so by kindly persuading Rahul to take up the leadership,” Shivakumar wrote.
“With difficulties our nation is going through at this time we need a leader like Rahul Gandhi to lead the youth and nation from front. In short, every Youth Congress member and office bearer unwaveringly supports Rahul Gandhi to be the next Congress President,” the Youth Congress said in a resolution.
Amarinder Singh, in his statement, said there was a bid by “some Congress leaders” to “challenge” the Gandhi family leadership of the party and argued this was not the time to raise such an issue, given the need for a strong opposition against the BJP-led NDA that was out to destroy the country’s Constitutional ethos and democratic principles.
Significantly, he said that the NDA’s success was attributable to the absence of a strong and united Opposition – a sentiment expressed by the 23 leaders – but argued the move by “these Congress leaders to demand a rehaul of the party at this critical juncture would be detrimental to its interests, and the interests of the nation.”
Singh added: “India is currently facing not just external dangers from across the border but also internal threats to its federal structure…a unified Congress alone could protect the country and its people.”
Singh claimed the Gandhis were the only “recognisable face” of the Congress, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. “What Congress needs is a leadership that is acceptable not just to a few but to the entire party, through its rank and file, and the nation at large,” he said, adding that “the Gandhis were the right fit for this role.”
Sonia Gandhi, he said, should continue to helm the Congress as long as she wanted and Rahul should, thereafter, take over as he was competent to lead the party. Baghel said Sonia and Rahul are the only “ray of hope” for bringing the country out of the present crisis. Former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot said that “most Congress workers would like to see Rahul take over and lead the party.”
Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said: “It is unfortunate that the leadership of Gandhi family is being questioned by few…In these difficult times of undeclared emergency and attack on democracy by BJP, we should collectively strive to strengthen the Congress and not weaken it.”
“As far as Congress is concerned, we have full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and the party is unanimous on one issue that whenever time comes Rahul Gandhi should be elected president,” said former Uttarakhand Chief Minister and CWC member Harish Rawat.
Former Union Minister Salman Khurshid asked: “Are not many, if not all authors of the letter not beneficiaries in the past, some even in the present, of the very system they find questionable?”
Senior leader Ashwani Kumar said the issues that required to be addressed can be addressed under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. “Only a year ago, party persons literally begged her to lead the party and she agreed as a call of duty. It is wrong to question her unifying leadership at this stage. I am of the view that under the present extraordinary circumstances, political adventurism cannot be the way forward,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines