I was not present at the marathon, seven-hour long virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and, therefore, have, as my reference point, only Manoj CG’s scoop for this newspaper regarding a letter written reportedly by 23 persons, comprising veterans and younger members of the Congress, which led to a letter from the Congress President (CP) to her General Secretary (Organisation) — an interesting innovation since CP’s instructions are usually given orally. Both letters were placed before a somewhat hastily convened meeting of the CWC. At the end of the meeting, the text of the resolution adopted was released to the press. That statement is a matter of public record; the two letters are not.
Going by what is on public record, it is stated that the CWC “has extensively deliberated on the letters”. That fulfils the main purpose of the signatories. They had not asked for a meeting of the CWC to ventilate their concerns. The CP offered them the unsought opportunity of four of their representatives, who are both signatories and members of CWC, to do so.
The CWC resolution also states that “detailed discussion” took place on both the letter written by G-23 and her letter to her general secretary (which none outside the charmed circle of the CWC has seen because Manoj has failed to scoop that letter). That means debate, discussion and deliberation took place on not only the concerns and recommendations of G-23 but also on whatever were the CP’s instructions to her General Secretary. There could not have been a more open or more transparent way of bringing every point-of-view to the table.
Not having been present at the meeting, I have to rely on reports published in the newspapers without vouching for their accuracy. But from such accounts as are available in the public domain, it would appear that the discussion was free and frank and marked by sharp jabs and acerbic repartee. No speaker, it would appear, was guillotined. It became clear, early on, that most of the G-23 approach, rightly or wrongly, was not acceptable to the majority of the CWC and was misconstrued, or deliberately construed, as a palace revolt. It was also clear that the G-23 were content at the end to go along with the general consensus. The hopes of the media that they could feast on continuing dissidence in the party and its disintegration into rival factions were, unfortunately for it, rather abruptly aborted.
But what of the substance of the G-23 missive? The consensus only authorises the CP to “effect necessary organisational changes as she may deem appropriate”, but briefings given on record by signatories and non-signatories point to a committee being appointed by the CP to consider such changes as have been proposed for her to “deem” what she regards as “appropriate”. This is par for the Congress course, a victory for both sides — a kind of demonstration of Solomon’s wisdom. The Congress has a rich tradition of intra-party differences that have usually been resolved without a split. The splits of 1969 and 1977-78 were not the norm. A democratic party is democratic only to the extent that it allows for a diversity of views. This diversity has been accounted for by keeping avenues open for pursuing specific proposals beyond the CWC meeting. Of course, this applies only if, in fact, such a committee is set up and given a timeline within which to report back. That has not been explicitly provided for in the resolution as adopted, but only as interpreted.
While five major conclusions and sub-conclusions have been carefully set out, the most important one has been left out. No condign punishment to the G-23 signatories has been recommended. Whatever the alleged imprecations of Ambika Soni, no one has been reprimanded, no one has been suspended, none have been summarily expelled. This is not happenstance. G-23 had not resorted to personalities. It had restricted itself to recommendations of a limited organisational nature, none particularly revolutionary or startling or even innovative. Indeed, most of these recommendations have been made in the past, the most far-reaching by Rahul Gandhi himself. He has himself objected only to the timing, not to the necessity or otherwise of going down the G-23 road. He has not pitted himself against the substance of what G-23 has sought and has restricted himself to questioning the propriety of red-flagging these issues and bringing them into public focus when the interim president had to be hospitalised. G-23, for their part, have clarified that they had deliberately held back the letter for 10 days because she was in hospital but are still to explain why they could not wait till she had recuperated more fully. But that is not an earth-shattering matter. The letter was confidential. The authors hoped it would be privately discussed. And beyond their intentions or expectations, they have been given the opportunity of arguing their case before the CWC.
By being selective in determining who the signatories would be, they have antagonised at least 19 members of the CWC and countless others. The main reason for the setback they have initially suffered is their ill-advised decision to be selective in their choice of signatories. Perhaps a more open-minded and open-ended approach would have served them better. In consequence, their motivations are being questioned, as they should surely have anticipated given their morbidly long experience in politics.
They would answer that they were not seeking a public airing of their views but just a conversation with their leader. That their leader outflanked them by showing up their minority status within the party can hardly be blamed on the leader. She was only showing her mastery of the game. But if their motives were disinterested and all they sought was that someone should take note of their views, they have succeeded for we now have a clear (and, more to the point, uncontested) listing of their recommendations which have certainly survived the personal grilling they have been subjected to — which, of course, is the lot of all politicians.
What needs to be stressed is that their proposals have been defeated but they live to fight another day. The proposals are so intrinsically sensible that they are bound to find at least partial acceptance. They did not seek Sonia Gandhi’s ouster. They did not seek Rahul Gandhi’s termination. They only sought what is more or less blindingly self-evident to every Congressman and woman. To the extent that they were motivated by personal interest (who isn’t?), they may have lost. To the extent that they sought a hearing in the party interest, they have prevailed. What could be a fairer outcome?
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 27, 2020 under the title ‘High Command and G-23’. The writer is a Congress leader and former Union minister