The Congress on Tuesday kept up its attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying his statement denying any Chinese intrusion had far-reaching implications, but the meeting of the party’s Working Committee revealed the strain within — and indicated that the internal issues it has been grappling with since the Lok Sabha election defeat are far from resolved.
At the meeting, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said there was a “growing feeling among the people that the government has gravely mishandled the situation”. She said she hoped that “mature diplomacy and decisive leadership will inform the government’s actions in protecting our territorial integrity”.
During the discussion that followed, however, RPN Singh, a leader from Uttar Pradesh, said the Congress should target Modi’s “policies and wrong decisions”, but the attack on him should not appear personal, sources present at the meeting said.
The sources said that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been acerbic in his criticism of Modi, perhaps felt that Singh was suggesting that the Prime Minister should not be attacked.
Rahul, who had tweeted less than 48 hours previously that “Narendra Modi is actually Surender Modi”, said that he would stop attacking the Prime Minister if the party said so, the sources said.
“He perhaps interpreted the suggestion wrongly. He said he will stop attacking the PM and he will attack Rajnath Singh or Nirmala Sitharaman instead. He argued that he is a soldier of the Congress party and will be bound by whatever the Working Committee decides, and he will not do what the Working Committee does not want him to do,” a source present in the meeting said.
“He (Rahul) said I am not scared of Modi,” another source said.
AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is learnt to have then suggested that Rahul was fighting Modi alone, and that other leaders did speak out against the PM.
Her comments echoed the debate in the party after its defeat in May 2019. At the first CWC meeting after the defeat, Rahul had said that most senior leaders did not support his “chowkidar chor hai” campaign against the PM. “At times, I stood completely alone” while taking on “the Prime Minister, RSS and the institutions they have captured”, he had said subsequently.
The sources said that senior leaders like Ahmed Patel and Anand Sharma said that the Prime Minister must be criticised since he is the leader of his party and government – and because of the authoritarian and centralised structure that has been built over the last six years.
Patel, however, said the language used against the Prime Minister should be temperate, and mindful of the dignity of the office he holds. Some other leaders too said that no abusive language should be used against the PM.
Sharma, it is learnt, said leaders such as him had taken on the Prime Minister firmly and resolutely in Parliament whenever required. He said leaders were not scared of attacking the Prime Minister.
Interestingly, the meeting also saw several leaders demanding that Rahul should return as Congress president.
Sources said Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made the suggestion, and was backed by former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat and others including Youth Congress president B V Srinivas.
And soon after the meeting, the Congress released the remarks made by Rahul on China at the meeting.
“China has brazenly occupied our territory. The PM has destroyed our position and betrayed our Army by accepting their position that they occupied no Indian land. The Chinese can’t be permitted to get away with this unacceptable usurpation of our land. Everything needs to be done to ensure that sacrifice of our martyrs is not in vain.
“One reason why China has acted is a complete and total failure of foreign policy. The established institutional structure of diplomacy has been demolished by the PM. Our relations with our once friendly neighbours lie in tatters. Our time-tested relationship with our traditional allies has been interrupted,” the statement said.
The CWC also adopted a resolution expressing “unwavering solidarity” with the armed forces, assuring support to the government for “steps taken to safeguard national security and India’s territorial integrity”, attacking China for its “brazen transgression” into “inalienable and integral parts of India’s sovereign territory”, and targeting the Prime Minister for his ‘no one has intruded into Indian territory’ remarks.
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