As letter seeks full-time ‘active’ Cong chief, all eyes on CWC meeting today where Sonia might step down; party leaders want Rahul to take up the reins
The letter “bomb” dropped by senior Congress leaders on the party leadership saw Congress president (interim) Sonia Gandhi on Sunday making it clear she would not continue as the head of the grand old party and the party should now look for an alternate leadership.
Sonia took over as an “interim” president of the party a year ago after Rahul Gandhi relinquished the post following the Congress rout in the Lok Sabha polls. Dozens of Congress leaders have written to Sonia to bring in a full-time “active” and “visible” president and go for a complete overhaul of the party and hold a fair election to the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
The Chief Ministers of Congress-ruled States of Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have rallied behind Sonia and Rahul.
Congress sources said senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal, both Rajya Sabha members had taken the main initiative in drafting the letter.
Twenty-three senior Congress leaders, including Chief Ministers, sitting MPs and former Union Ministers had written to Sonia calling for sweeping changes in the organisation. During the Rajasthan political crisis several leaders had expressed their anguish over the state of affairs in the party and the way it is being handled.
Sonia, who is likely to announce her decision to step down at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday, has clearly mentioned that party members should get together and find a new chief as she did not want to carry out the responsibilities any further.
The letter was signed by Members of Parliament (MP), former Ministers and Chief Ministers and members of the CWC. The senior party leaders have said they are unhappy with “uncertainty” and “drift” in the party, along with demanding “honest introspection”, “collective leadership”, and stressing that the “youth are losing confidence” in the party.
Though Congress sources have confirmed that Sonia would step down on Monday, the Congress chief spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala, said, “Sonia has not spoken to any leader, nor written a letter to anyone, we completely deny this.” Soon after the words went around that Sonia would step down, party workers across the country called for Rahul Gandhi’s election. If Rahul didn’t agree then senior leaders like Manmohan Singh or AK Antony may be brought in as interim chief before an election is held to the post.
AICC sources said a strategy to counter the letter that has indirectly questioned the present leadership is already on the cards. Various State units of the Congress, including Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Chhattisgarh counterpart Rupesh Bhagleh, have already reposed their faith in the leadership of the Gandhi family. Other State-level leaders have started gathering signatures to condemn the signature campaign of the veterans.
The most vocal in the support of the Gandhi family was Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.
The old guard said the letter demanding sweeping structural changes within the party was “unbelievable” and shouldn’t have been leaked to the media.
He said while he wanted Sonia to continue, Rahul must come forward to take the reins of the party if she has made up her mind to quit.
Former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot has also backed the Gandhi family’s leadership.
“Gandhi & Rahul have shown what it means to sacrifice for greater good of people & party. It’s now time to build consensus & consolidate. Our future is stronger when we’re united. Most party workers would like to see Rahul take over & lead party, ” Pilot tweeted.
The letter sent a fortnight ago, calls for full time and effective leadership, visible and active in the field, elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and an “institutional leadership mechanism” aimed at the party’s revival.
The letter also states that CWC meetings are now convened only according to political developments, apart from Sonia’s customary address and the obituary references.
Other signatories to the letter include are former Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Jitin Prasad, M Veerappa Moily, Renuka Chaudhary, Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha, AICC office bearers and CWC members including former Chief Minister like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, party members Rajender Kaur Bhattal, Prithviraj Chavan, PJ Kurian, Ajay Singh and Milind Deora, former PCC chiefs Raj Babbar (UP), Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal); current Bihar campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma; former Delhi Speaker Yoganand Shastri and former MP Sandeep Dixit.
Focussing on the erosion of Congress’ support, especially among the youth, the letter mentioned the rise of the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s “communal and divisive agenda”. The signatories contended that the party’s revival is imperative at a time when the country faces the “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence”.
It added that the CWC was unable to guide the party out of troubled times and recommended organisational elections from the block-level up till the highest level. The leaders have given various suggestions in the letter, including constituting a Parliamentary Board for “collective thinking”, the need to unite Opposition parties, and on the role of State Congress presidents.
The reports about the existence of such a letter which the Congress had denied earlier was first shared by suspended former spokesman Sanjay Jha who on Twitter claimed that about hundred leaders had petitioned Sonia Gandhi over the state of affairs in the Congress. AICC chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had then stated it was a BJP-motivated move aimed at deflecting attention from the Facebook issue.
According to a news agency, former Rajya Sabha leader PJ Kurien said: “I can’t tell you the details but I can only tell you that I signed it. The letter will be made available after the CWC meeting on Monday”.
Senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor took to Twitter and posted a cryptic tweet on the loss of hope and lack of “passion and urge”. Tharoor posted a quote by the former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
“Without passion and urge, there is a gradual oozing out of hope and vitality, a settling down on lower levels of existence, a slow merging into non-existence. We have become prisoners of the past and some part of its immobility sticks to us’: Jawaharlal Nehru,” Tharoor tweeted.
Sonia Gandhi had accepted the post of the interim chief after much persuasion only on one condition that the party will find her replacement soon.
For his part, Rahul Gandhi while resigning from the top post had told the CWC in its meeting on May 25 that the party should elect a non-Gandhi as its new president. According to a couple of news channels, Rahul has again expressed to a few senior party leaders that he will not lead the party at any cost and similar reaction from his sibling Priyanka Gandhi has emerged in the backdrop of Sonia’s resignation decision trickled during the day.
Monday, 24 August 2020 | PNS | New Delhi
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