Has CWC Meeting Ended Congress’ Letter Row? Read Between the Lines

What happened at the CWC is significant from the point of the leadership question in the Congress.

4 min read
Image of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi used for representational purposes.

"We are a large family. We have differences and different views on many occasions but in the end we come together as one."

These are the words with which interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi ended the seven-hour long Congress Working Committee meeting on Monday, 24 August.

The CWC also unanimously rejected her offer to resign and urged her to continue as the party's interim head until an All India Congress Committee session is convened.

So, does that mean 'all's well that ends well'? There are two key questions here:

  • What about the letter written by 23 top Congress leaders to her complaining about the state of affairs in the party?
  • What does this mean for the leadership question in the Congress?

What About the Letter by 23 Congress Leaders?

In its resolution, the CWC said that it has "taken note" of the letter as well as Sonia Gandhi's response to it. These four aspects from the resolution directly deal with the letter:

  • Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been at the forefront of taking on the government on the multiple crises that have taken place in the last six months: the coronavirus pandemic, the downward spiral in the economy, job losses and Chinese aggression.
  • No one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture.
  • Inner-party issues cannot be deliberated through the media or in public fora.
  • The CWC authorised the Congress President to affect necessary organisational changes that she may deem appropriate.

So what does this mean?

  • The letter had called for an overhaul of the Congress at every level and criticised the party's functioning. By reasserting faith in Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, the resolution dismissed the call for change at the top as of now.
  • However, it is important that the CWC has chosen not to see it as a rebellion, restricting criticism of the letter to saying that “concerns should have been raised in party fora”.
  • This is not surprising as among the signatories to the letter include Gandhi family loyalists like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mukul Wasnik, indicating that it may not have been a full-fledged rebellion at all.
  • By authorising Sonia Gandhi to make all the necessary organisational chances, a part of the concerns in the letter have been addressed.
  • One of the 23 signatories told The Quint, “The letter was not a rebellion against anyone. It was an expression of anguish. We are happy that the concerns have been addressed. Everyone wants what’s best for the party”.
  • However another leader, who publicly came out in support of Rahul Gandhi adds, “Not all the 23 signatories are in the same category. Some were genuine in their criticism but some are merely trying to weaken Rahul Gandhi. If that is the case, they won’t stop at this.”

The Leadership Question

A few aspects of what happened today are relevant.

  • The CWC unanimously requested Sonia Gandhi “to continue to lead the Indian National Congress until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened”.
  • During his press conference after the CWC meeting, Congress' communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala said that it is the wish of Congress workers that Rahul Gandhi take over the reins of the party.

Another incident is provides an important indication the context of the leadership question.

Rahul Reaches Out After Sibal's Tweet

Barely an hour after the meeting began, a news channel reported that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused the 23 leaders of colluding with the BJP and that one of the signatories Ghulam Nabi Azad offered to resign in response to this allegation.

Another signatory Kapil Sibal, who wasn't part of the meeting, reacted to the news story indignantly and listed all the battles he had fought for the party.

Has CWC Meeting Ended Congress’ Letter Row? Read Between the Lines
Has CWC Meeting Ended Congress’ Letter Row? Read Between the Lines

But Rahul Gandhi called up Sibal and said that he had said no such thing in the meeting, after which the latter deleted his tweet. Similarly, Ghulam Nabi Azad said that his offer to resign wasn't in reaction any statement by Rahul Gandhi.

Why is this significant?

Gandhi's act of promptly reaching out to Sibal to address his "misunderstanding" is important in two ways.

  • It indicates that sooner or later, Gandhi may take over the reins of the party once again.
  • The letter by 23 leaders, including Sibal, may have pushed Gandhi to adopt a more conciliatory approach towards criticism.

What Happens Next?

The widespread support for Rahul Gandhi despite some criticism, indicates that whenever a change of guard does take place, it could mean his return at the helm.

But for now, status quo continues in the Congress at least as far as leadership is concerned. But it is possible that the party leadership may be compelled to address a key aspect of criticism: that the top leaders aren't reachable.

“The main problem is that we aren’t able to reach out to the top leadership. It’s very difficult to get an audience. Decisions are taken in an ad-hoc manner. This needs to change. This was discussed in the CWC meeting I’m told. Hope something comes out of it,” a signatory who is not a CWC member, said.

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