New Delhi: Multiple Congress leaders, who aren’t signatories to the letter written to Sonia Gandhi demanding a leadership overhaul, have come out in support of its content, saying they are in “full and complete agreement” with the demands being raised.
“I am disappointed that the signatories did not approach me, or I would very happily have joined them in signing that letter,” former Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar told ThePrint.
“I do not see this as revolt, but as an attempt by concerned Congress people to rally the Congress towards significant changes, which should precede any major campaign the party undertakes,” he added.
In an unprecedented move, at least 23 senior Congress leaders, including former chief ministers and Union ministers, and sitting MPs and Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, wrote to Sonia, demanding a “full time and effective leadership”.
This was followed by Sonia communicating to her party colleagues Sunday that she is stepping down as the interim party president, and that the CWC should take up the issue of a new leader.
Some of the signatories of the letter include party MPs and former Union ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor. Certain leaders, perceived to be Gandhi family loyalists, such as Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, have also signed on the letter.
Aiyar said the fact that the party ‘bigwigs’ have chosen to sign the letter “adds heft to it”.
‘Any party with common sense would bring non-Gandhi leader’
P.C. Chacko, senior leader and former in-charge of the Congress’ Delhi unit, told ThePrint the feeling expressed in the letter “cuts across states and age groups”.
“Congress leaders from across different states, and belonging to different age groups feel this way,” Chacko told ThePrint.
Several regional heavyweights, such as Bhupinder Singh Hooda from Haryana, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal from Punjab, M. Veerappa Moily from Karnataka, Prithviraj Chavan from Maharashtra and Milind Deora from Maharashtra, P J Kurien from Kerala, have signed the letter. So have CWC member Mukul Wasnik and special invitee Jitin Prasada from Uttar Pradesh, among others.
“Rahul made it clear after the party’s 2019 defeat, that a non-Gandhi should be made president,” Chacko said. “It was clear that BJP would continue attacking the Gandhis and any party with common sense would have listened to Rahul, but they went ahead and made Sonia Gandhi the president.”
Chacko added that Sonia’s health permits her to travel and meet with people “only so much”.
“A non-Gandhi party president would have acceptability only to a certain degree, that is true. But it is still better than constantly having to face attacks for a Gandhi-Nehru leadership,” Chacko added.
Senior leader Anil Shastri said the problem has arisen because “the top leadership is not easily accessible at all”.
“There has not been an AICC meeting in 5-6 years. Ironically, we used to hold more meetings when we were in power than we do now when we are in opposition,” Shastri, who is the AICC chairman of the Hindi department, told ThePrint.
He added that “half the battle will be won if the party leadership makes itself more accessible”.
“If a district president of the party comes to Delhi to meet any of the top leadership — not just the Gandhi-Nehru family but other top leaders also — it is very difficult. That is the cause of this disconnect,” said Shastri, son of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
Within the Gandhi family, Shastri said, he thinks Priyanka Gandhi “knows the mood of the people the best”.
Khurshid says letter was not needed
Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid said he had no objection with the content of the letter but all such demands should be kept “within the party”.
“If you are in the CWC and you write such a letter when you can very well communicate this in person, I don’t get it,” Khurshid told ThePrint. “That’s not asking for much, just common decency.”
Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi and former Rajya Sabha MP B.K. Hariprasad refused to comment on the letter, saying it is an “internal party matter”.
Some leaders, however, came to the Gandhi family’s defence — most notably Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel.
Singh said it would be a mistake to undermine the family whose “selfless commitment and unimaginable sacrifices” had allowed the Congress to stand “like a rock in the path of the BJP and its ambition to divide the country on the lines of caste and religion”.
Baghel too adopted a similar line, saying the Gandhi family’s leadership alone will help the country in these “troubled times.”
“For every challenge, Soniaji and Rahulji are the beacons of light,” he tweeted out his statement. “We are all with you. Congress workers in Chhattisgarh and crores from across the country along with citizens are with you.”
हर चुनौती में हमारे लिए उम्मीद की किरण माननीय सोनिया जी और आदरणीय राहुल जी हैं। हम सभी आपके साथ हैं। छत्तीसगढ़ और देश के करोड़ों कार्यकर्ता और देशवासी आपके साथ हैं।
देश जिस संकटपूर्ण दौर से गुज़र रहा है उससे आपके नेतृत्व में ही छुटकारा मिलेगा। pic.twitter.com/kBjdSK5sgU
— Bhupesh Baghel (@bhupeshbaghel) August 23, 2020