Familiar scenes played out at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meet on Sunday, with the members meeting to discuss the major drubbing it witnessed in all 5 states that went for polls. The nearly 5-hour long meeting ended with the decision that the Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi is to continue holding the post till August-September, when the CWC internal polls are also likely to be held. The party also decided on 8 April as the date when a ‘Chintan Shivar’ will be organised to delve deeper into the state of affairs within the party.
What was interesting to note was that this CWC meet, like others in the past, also began with Sonia Gandhi offering to “sacrifice” her post, if the members agree. To which almost immediately the CWC members unanimously refused to accept the offer, asserting their faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
While there weren't many major fireworks in Sunday's meeting, there was some clear exchange of criticism over the functioning of the party, the leadership's accessibility as well as the strategies adopted by the Congress in the state elections, party insiders told The Quint.
Failed Punjab and Uttarakhand Strategies, Call for 'Accessible' Leadership
Senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad began by questioning the Congress’ decision making in Punjab, saying that Captain Amarinder Singh should have been removed well in advance instead of “delaying the move”, thereby creating a leadership change in the state last minute. He is also learnt to have said that former Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat should have been shifted out of Punjab’s affairs and used for Uttarakhand’s campaigning ahead of time.
Azad was one of the 23 leaders who wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi back in August 2020 asking for a “full time and effective leadership” as well as elections to the CWC. In this meeting too, Azad hinted towards the need for the leadership to be more “available and easily accessible” to the party cadre.
Mukul Wasnik and Anand Sharma, both also members of the CWC, agreed with Azad’s call for a more hands-on leadership. Sharma is also learnt to have asked for the party to introspect why there is a need for “working presidents” to tag along with the state presidents, inevitably rendering either of the two posts irrelevant.
Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi also addressed the CWC meet, taking responsibility for the defeat, and their campaign strategies failing in the five states.
Calling For Sonia Gandhi To 'Lead From The Front'
Despite this candid exchange, the meet eventually circled back to hailing the party leadership. Tariq Anwar and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury called for the party to remain united and back the Gandhi family amid the growing attacks on them in the public discourse, following the election rout.
Chowdhury, while speaking to ANI after the meet, confirmed that Sonia Gandhi as well as Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi had offered to sacrifice their posts in the party, but were met with a rejection.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, in a press conference after the meeting, said that "every single member of CWC wants Sonia Gandhi to guide the party till organisational elections are held.”
The CWC also released a statement, which said the party accepts the “shortcomings” in its strategy, and that it “could not effectively expose the misrule of BJP state governments in four states and overcome the anti-incumbency in the state of Punjab in the short time after effecting a change of leadership.”
However, the statement ended with the lines: “The CWC unanimously reaffirms its faith in the leadership of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and requests the Congress president to lead from the front, address the organisational weaknesses, effect necessary and comprehensive organisational changes in order to take on the political challenges”.
This was a pertinent point, because while it is reaffirming Sonia Gandhi as the party's leader, it is also calling for her to "lead from the front" and to "address the organisational weaknesses" of the party. This is in some sense also invoking the letter written in 2020 by party leaders, which called for changes within the party on similar lines.
Congress Internal Polls Pushed For Nearly 2 Years Now
This is hardly the first time such scenes have played out at the CWC meet. After the shocker of a letter written in August 2020, by what came to be known as the ‘G-23’, the CWC has met multiple times to discuss the possibility of internal polls to the post of the party president as well as CWC. In the CWC meet immediately after the letter went public, it was decided by the party that Sonia Gandhi will continue as the interim president till the next AICC session is convened.
But the prospect of the internal polls have been pushed off at one pretext or another.
In January 2021, the CWC had announced that it will hold the party’s internal polls, but only after the 5-state assembly elections of that year, as it doesn’t want the state assembly elections to interfere with the election of party president. At the time, CWC had said that the Congress will have a new elected president by June-end of 2021 “at any cost”.
However, the party then held another CWC meet in May 2021, where Sonia Gandhi began by saying she wants to discuss the schedule for the internal polls, but the party leaders reacted by saying that the polls cannot be held amid the second Covid wave, which had peaked at the time.
“The CWC was unanimous that all our energies should be channelised towards saving every life and helping every Covid affected person,” the resolution passed by the CWC at the time had stated.
In a press conference held after that particular meet, Surjewala had said that Sonia Gandhi “is very clear that it is not an open ended deferment, it is for two-three months, till the situation stabilises.”
However, almost a year on, the party is yet to hold its internal polls.