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Sibal’s exit latest blow for Congress G-23 as group that questioned Gandhi leadership implodes

Four original members have left the party or distanced themselves from G-23. Many among the rest appear to have bought peace with the high-command.

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New Delhi: The Congress G-23 — or group of 23 leaders that shook up the Congress with their August 2020 letter virtually questioning the Gandhi family leadership — has imploded, rendering the group ineffectual and irrelevant.

It is now down four of its original members, with senior leader Kapil Sibal announcing Wednesday that he’d quit the Congress.

His exit was preceded by that of his group colleagues Jitin Prasada and Yoganand Shastri, who moved to the BJP and the NCP, respectively. Long-time Congressman Veerappa Moily had “dissociated” himself from the group last October.

But it’s not the number — 23 or 19. It’s the silence of the remaining group over Sibal’s exit that tells the story of its withering away, and the Gandhis putting down the resistance to re-establish their supremacy.

The group had first shaken up the Congress in August 2020, with a strong “letter of dissent” to interim party chief Sonia Gandhi that demanded “collective thinking and decisionmaking”.

The G-23 comprises, among others, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Manish Tewari, P.J. Kurien, Vivek Tankha, Sandeep Dikshit, Raj Babbar, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Prithviraj Chavan, Milind Deora, Mukul Wasnik, Shashi Tharoor, Arvinder Singh Lovely, and Renuka Chowdhury.

With the Udaipur Chintan Shivir rejecting the G-23’s main demands — such as collective leadership through the reconstitution of Central Parliamentary Board and elections to the Congress Working Committee and other bodies — the message from the high-command was clear: My way or the highway.

While Sibal has chosen to hit the highway on a bicycle-carrier, his comrades who are still part of the resistance movement must see the writing on the wall.

One G-23 member ThePrint spoke to dismissed suggestions of the group’s collapse.

“What is there to say? Yes, we haven’t been able to achieve what we set out to, but we never expected it. We have made our point and every Congressman knows we are right,” said the leader. “G-23 is not a numerical number. It’s a symbol of hope for Congress workers and leaders that the party can still be revived. Our leadership will also realise it one day, but that may be too late by then.”

Also read: India needs Congress for the sake of democracy. Just that Congress doesn’t need the Gandhis

Gradual disintegration

While Sibal was the most vocal member, the G-23 derived its powers from the clout of prominent members.

One was Bhupinder Singh Hooda, a mass leader the Congress high-command appears to have mollified by appointing his close aide, Udai Bhan, as Haryana unit president, virtually handing over the party affairs in the state to the former CM.

Of the two Lok Sabha MPs in G-23 — Manish Tewari from Punjab and Shashi Tharoor from Kerala — Sonia seems to have tried to co-opt Tharoor by making him a member of the planning group for coordination of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra‘.

Tewari, much like Sibal earlier, has been left high and dry by the high-command and everyone is curious about his next move. Tewari may not be in a hurry though, with two years remaining in his current Lok Sabha term.

Of the remaining members, former Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad — and Congress deputy leader in the House, Anand Sharma — have found a place in the political affairs group, an advisory body constituted by Sonia Tuesday.

The two leaders are, however, expecting to be re-nominated to the Rajya Sabha. If the high-command overlooks them in selecting nominees, it would be interesting to see what they do.

Former Union minister Mukul Wasnik, a Gandhi family loyalist, did sign the August 2020 letter but has chosen to stay mum. Wasnik figured in the task force-2024 set up by Sonia Tuesday.

Apart from Azad, Moily and Hooda, there are at least two other former CMs who were signatories to the August letter. While Prithviraj Chavan of Maharashtra, an MLA now, has been side-lined in the party, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal of Punjab is not known to wield much influence anymore.

The rest of the G-23, be it Sandeep Dikshit, Milind Deora, Vivek Tankha or Arvinder Singh Lovely, do not have the kind of political heft or mass followings that may bother the Gandhis.

In a press briefing during the turmoil in the Congress’ Punjab unit last year, Sibal said the G-23 would continue to ask questions of the leadership because they’re the “G-23” and not the “Jee Huzoor 23 (Yes Sir 23)”.

Thereafter, when the party lost the assembly elections in five states earlier this year, Sibal said the Gandhi leadership should move away and give someone else a chance.

Sibal was the only one in the group who spoke against the Congress leadership at the time. The reason, ostensibly, is that most leaders with either personal or political heft within the party, have reconciled to some extent with the Gandhis.

When Sibal made the above-mentioned statement, Azad was quick to counter him, saying that there was “no question on Sonia Gandhi’s leadership”.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: Gandhi siblings, their loyalists & some G-23 ‘rebels’ in 3 new Congress panels set up for 2024

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