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Sonia to Quit? Have Gandhis Ignored Dissent And Harmed Congress?

“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”

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Sonia Gandhi has offered to resign as the interim party president ahead of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting scheduled for Monday. The meeting, if not cancelled, will be held in the shadow of the letter written by 23 Congressmen, sharply critical of the manner in which the party is being run, and calls into question the current leadership of the party. The fact that more than two dozen senior leaders, including five former chief ministers and CWC members have lent their names to a letter that calls for a “full time effective leadership, which is active and visible”, is unprecedented by Congress party standards

Congress Angst Goes Beyond 23 Members

The letter in question has only 23 signatories but, many believe, it reflects the deep churning and sense of unease that grips the party. This is also the first time since 1999 that Sonia Gandhi’s leadership or handling of the affairs of the party has been challenged in such a way.

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“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”
File photo of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
(Photo: PTI)

This development also comes in the backdrop of calls for the reinstatement of Rahul Gandhi, once again, as the party chief, the letter clearly reflects the reservations within the party to his return. Significantly, the letter talks of a paradigm shift in the kind of leadership the party should have going forward. It talks of the family always being an “integral part of the collective leadership of the party”, a departure from the practice thus far – that is, whenever a member of the family has helmed the party , he or she has been the sole leader and not a part of the collective leadership.

“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”

What Will the Gandhis Do?

Two weeks ago, when talk of the letter first came up, the party sought to deny its existence calling it a part of the BJP’s machinations to defame the party. It is now clear that the letter is for real and has been confirmed by many of the signatories. The party can longer live in denial, it has to address the issues raised by the signatories. While it is difficult to second guess what the leadership will do, there are some indications.

Both Rahul and Priyanka have, in the past, spoken of the need for somebody other than a member of the Gandhi family to lead the party. The family can take that route. At the moment, in line with Sonia Gandhi’s reaction in 1999 to challenge mounted to her leadership, she has offered to resign as the interim president, leaving it to the party to choose its next president.

“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”
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Can Congress Really Get a Non-Gandhi President?

Finding a non-Gandhi party president is not going to be an easy task. The signatories have spoken of the need to hold elections from the block level to the CWC, by implications to the post of Party president itself. That could take some doing. Putting an election machinery in place, getting the membership organised, and ensuring free and transparent polls, will take a huge amount of effort and planning.

Significantly, there is no unanimity amongst the signatories on who the successor will be, and this could be the undoing of those clamouring for a change.
“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”

Going Public With Dissent

According to sources, it is after a great deal of deliberations that they decided to go public. “This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response, we were left with no other option,” says a senior member of the group.

According to many of the signatories, the letter is a result of a series of discussions between a large number of leaders cutting across states and age groups. Not all the leaders who were a part of the deliberations – including a former chief minister, some senior former ministers, and also gen-next leaders who were at one point of time considered close to Rahul Gandhi – were asked to sign. The group has deliberately chosen to leave out sitting chief ministers and PCC chiefs, though some of them share views expressed in the letter.

“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”
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Not an ‘Old Guard Vs Young Turks’ Matter Anymore

A degree of planning and thought appears to have gone into putting together the group. It comprises not just former chief ministers like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Bhoopinder Hooda, Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan, and Rajinder Kumar Bhattal, but also people like the deputy leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha – Anand sharma – loyalists like Mukul Wasnik and eminent jurist Kapil Sibal. The presence of leaders like former deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha P J Kurien, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor along with the likes of Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada considered close to Rahul Gandhi, ensures that it is not portrayed as a fight between the old guard and the Young Turks.

Based on anecdotal evidence, the views expressed are shared by a large section within the party. There is a perceptible restlessness and growing sense of despair at the ad hoc manner in which the party is functioning, and the failure of the leadership to consult in drawing up a cohesive strategy to counter the BJP.

“This letter was sent a fortnight ago, we were hoping to be called for a discussion but there’s been no response.”
“Not only do we not have a leader, there is no planning or thought being applied to counter Modi. We also sorely lack a narrative,” says a veteran party MP.

This is a view that is evidently shared by a lot of people in the party. “Tweets and episodic outburst and slick videos are no substitute to a well thought-out stand by the party,” says a CWC member who is yet to sign the letter .

The Congress party’s standard response in such situations is to try and brush issues under the carpet, however this time it cannot be buisness as usual. The party, particularly the the Gandhis will have to address the issues squarely, failure to do so might just turn this into a full blown crisis.

(The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached @javedmansari . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quintneither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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