New Delhi: The stage is set for a clash between pro- and anti-Rahul Gandhi camps within the Congress party at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting scheduled for Monday, with a letter having been sent to party chief Sonia Gandhi seeking a change in the way the party functions.
In an unprecedented move, at least 23 senior Congress leaders, including former chief ministers and Union ministers, and sitting MPs and CWC members, wrote to Sonia a fortnight ago.
The leaders demanded structural changes in the party’s functioning, and a “full time and effective leadership”. They also sought a leadership that is both “visible” and “active” in the field, and called for elections to be conducted for CWC membership.
Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, party MPs and former Union ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor are among the prominent signatories, according to a report in The Indian Express Sunday.
Former chief ministers and Union ministers including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Rajender Kaur Bhattal, M. Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan, P.J. Kurian, Ajay Singh, Renuka Chaudhary and Milind Deora signed the letter too.
Also on the list are CWC member Mukul Wasnik and special invitee Jitin Prasada, MP Vivek Tankha, former state Congress chiefs Raj Babbar (Uttar Pradesh), Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal), Bihar campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma, former Delhi Speaker Yoganand Shastri and former MP Sandeep Dixit.
The signatories sought the urgent establishment of an “institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively” guide the party’s revival.
At least four signatories confirmed the contents of the letter to ThePrint, but added that they will raise the issue further only in internal party discussions.
Last week, suspended Congress leader Sanjay Jha had raked up a storm with a tweet mentioning the existence of such a letter that was signed by 100 leaders. However, party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had denied Jha’s claims.
It is estimated that around 100 Congress leaders (including MP's) , distressed at the state of affairs within the party, have written a letter to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Congress President, asking for change in political leadership and transparent elections in CWC.
Watch this space.
— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) August 17, 2020
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
“Special Misinformation Group on Media-TV Debate Guidance” in its what’sapp of today directed to run the story of a non existant letter of Congress leaders to divert attention from Facebook-BJP links.
Of course, BJP stooges have started acting upon it.
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) August 17, 2020
The latest clash comes just a day ahead of the crucial CWC meeting, where the leadership concerns are expected to be brought up.
On 10 August, Sonia completed a year as the interim Congress president. The party has said the procedure to elect the new president will be followed “in the not too distant future”.
Calls for reforms
In the letter, the leaders said the CWC is not “effectively guiding” the party anymore in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The leaders termed the CWC meetings “episodic”, adding that they are convened in reaction to political developments. The CWC should be a deliberative body for setting the national agenda and for policy initiatives, they said.
The leaders also said the meetings of Congress Parliamentary Party see no discussions anymore, and have been reduced to the customary address of the chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, where mere obituaries are read out.
The letter said the party has not undertaken any “honest introspection” even over a year after the Lok Sabha election rout to find out reasons for its continued “decline”. It asserted that the “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party has demoralised workers and weakened the party.
The letter also put forth a range of suggestions and demanded reforms — decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, an urgent constitution of a central parliamentary board and elections to the Congress organisation at all levels — from block-level leadership to the CWC.
Gandhi family integral, but imperative to revive party
However, while calling for a new leadership, the letter said the Nehru-Gandhi family will always remain an “integral part of the collective leadership” of the party.
It also appreciated the leadership provided by Sonia Gandhi and the efforts made by Rahul Gandhi when he was the Congress president.
It argued that the revival of Congress is “a national imperative” fundamental to the health of democracy, noting that the party’s steady decline comes when the country faces its “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence”.
According to the signatories, these challenges include mood of “fear” and insecurity, the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s “communal and divisive agenda”, economic recession, ballooning unemployment, hardships caused by the pandemic, challenges on the border including the standoff with China, and the drift in foreign policy.
NSUI and Youth Congress issues
The letter also highlighted issues like undue delays in key appointments of state Congress presidents and office-bearers. It said leaders who command respect and acceptability in the state are not appointed in time.
It also claimed that state Congress presidents are not given freedom to take organisational decisions.
The signatories also reportedly complained that the introduction of elections in Youth Congress and National Students Union of India — the youth and student wings of the party — has created “conflict and division”, and resulted in their “capture” at the state level by those with money and political patronage.
While the letter didn’t explicitly mention Rahul Gandhi while making this point, he was widely credited for introducing elections in these bodies.