Updated: March 18, 2022 1:46:31 pm
INDICATING the ferment within after its resounding defeat in Assembly elections in all five states, the Congress denied there was any move by the Gandhis to step aside from leadership roles at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee Sunday.
On the eve of the meeting whose agenda is the electoral rout, NDTV reported that Sonia, her son Rahul Gandhi, and AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, could resign from their posts. Party communication department head Randeep Surjewala denied this calling the report “mischievous and incorrect” and “emanating from imaginary sources at the instance of ruling BJP.”
Rahul does not hold any post in the party and Sonia is the interim president and is set to make way for a new President later this year. The party has announced that elections for the post of AICC president will take place between August 21 and September 20 this year. Some of the leaders, however, said there is a possibility the CWC may advance the election schedule.
The CWC meeting was called a day after some leaders of the ginger group, G 23, who had written to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking sweeping changes in the party, met at senior leader and CWC member Ghulam Nabi Azad’s residence.
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The challenge being faced by the leadership mirrors the situation in 1998. On March 14 that year, the CWC, in an unprecedented move, removed Sitaram Kesri as president of the party and invited Sonia Gandhi to replace him – she did that evening.
There is a vital difference, though. Kesri had virtually no support in the CWC. The lone Kesri loyalist, Tariq Anwar, had walked out of the meeting. Although there is some disquiet regarding the Gandhis, they have overwhelming support both in the CWC and in the party. Some leaders of the G 23 believe that the status quo is untenable but it’s not sure if they will formally ask for a change.
Kesri’s sacking came after the party’s defeat in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress had won 141 seats and the BJP 182 seats. Cut to 2022. The Congress has suffered back-to-back Lok Sabha election defeats in 2014 and 2019. Its tally in Lok Sabha now is a mere 53. It is in Government only in two states.
Interestingly, some of the cast of characters who played a role in the change of guard in 1998 are still there. Azad, at whose residence some of the leaders of the G 23 met Friday, was close to Kesri but switched sides once it became clear which way the wind was blowing. Anwar, who stood with Kesri and then walked out of the party with Sharad Pawar and P A Sangma a year later to form the NCP, is back in the Congress and is a member of the CWC.
Among the G 23, Azad, Congress deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, and AICC general secretary Mukul Wasnik, are members of the CWC. They will attend Sunday’s meeting although some of them are unhappy that the party president has convened an extended CWC including special invitees instead of the main body.
It is to be seen whether the Congress president would also appoint yet another committee – as was done after the party’s defeat in Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and Puducherry in May last year. The contents of the report of that committee – headed by Ashok Chavan with Salman Khurshid, Manish Tewari, Vincent Pala and Jothi Mani as members – are not known.
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