Sonia Gandhi, 73, was once again declared Interim President of the Congress. After a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), senior leaders and the Gandhi family kicked the contentious leadership can down the road for another six months. The proceedings followed a neat script choreographed to perfection by Ahmed Patel, the party treasurer. Except that the returns of the Gandhi family movie now have a diminishing box office return.
After marathon and dramatic events in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday, the loyalists have turned the tables on the dissenters as the CWC has decided that Sonia Gandhi will continue as interim party chief till a new President is elected and the next meeting will be called in six months.
Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said: “The CWC authorises the Congress President to affect necessary organisational changes that she may deem appropriate to take on the challenges listed above. In the light of the above deliberations and conclusions, the CWC unanimously requests Sonia Gandhi to continue to lead the Indian National Congress until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened.”
“No one will be allowed to weaken the party and its leaders. The CWC makes it clear that no one will be or can be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture. The responsibility of every Congress worker and leader today is to fight the pernicious assault on India’s democracy, pluralism and diversity by the Modi government,” said senior party leader K.C. Venugopal.
The CWC meet started with Sonia Gandhi offering to quit and Rahul Gandhi questioning the timing of a letter by the ‘dissenters’. As the message of Sonia Gandhi was read, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first to request her to continue while A.K. Antony said the letter was “cruel”.
Rahul Gandhi questioned the timing of the letter as Sonia Gandhi was in the hospital at the time and the party was facing turmoil in its Rajasthan unit, said sources.
But in the CWC meet, the loyalists turned the table on the dissenters with Ambika Soni asking for action while Ahmed Patel asked “how such senior leaders can make such a mistake”, to which the dissenters said that they have not questioned the leadership but called for a revamp of the organisation, sources said.
Anand Sharma said that it is not indiscipline while Mukul Wasnik also referred to his services to the party. The dissenters also said that they have no objection to Gandhis’ leadership and praised Sonia Gandhi for her role in strengthening the party.
Controversy erupted during the seven-hour meeting several times after it was reported in a section of the media that Rahul Gandhi had claimed that the letter was written in “collusion with the BJP”, and on this senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal attacked Rahul Gandhi.
But later the party clarified its position and even Rahul Gandhi called up Sibal to clear the doubts. Later Sibal too retracted his earlier tweets and said he “was informed by Rahul Gandhi personally that he (Rahul) never said what was attributed to him. I therefore withdraw my tweet.”
Veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad too toed the same line, saying, “A section of the media is wrongly attributing that in the CWC I told Rahul Gandhi to prove that the letter written by us was in collusion with the BJP. Let me make it very clear that Rahul Gandhi has neither in the CWC or outside said that this letter was written at the behest of the BJP.”
He said he was responding to leaders outside the CWC and, sources said, especially to Haryana Congress leader Kumari Selja.
At the meeting, Rahul Gandhi was emotional and said that as a son he was quite disturbed at the timing of the letter to Sonia Gandhi.
But the leaders who wrote the letter said that they didn’t question Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
The stage was set on Sunday when scores of leaders sided with the Gandhi family and the ‘dissenters’ were marginalised.
Sonia Gandhi, at the end, said that the CWC leaders should work for the party without any prejudice and with a goal of strengthening the party and that she had no ill will and considered everybody as her family.
The Congress likely to appoint a panel of senior leaders to assist interim Sonia Gandhi till she is at the helm of affairs, say sources for though the party maintains all is well but the discontent, evinced by a letter seeking a leadership change, may not have been fully doused.
Sources say that the party may appoint a panel of four persons to take important decisions.
The Congress working Committeehas authorised the Congress President to affect “necessary organisational changes” that she may deem appropriate to take on the challenges.
“In the light of the above deliberations and conclusions, the CWC unanimously requests Sonia Gandhi to continue to lead the Congress until such time as circumstances will permit an AICC session to be convened,” party General Secretary, Organisation, K.C. Venugopal said, after the key meeting.
Hinting at the committee, several leaders said that Sonia Gandhi will be assisted by four persons so that consultation process is more wide than what she had done in past while going for treatment abroad.
However, chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: “The organisational reconstitution is at her (Sonia Gandhi’s) discretion. How she will exercise her discretion, is neither for General Secretary, Organisation nor for me to say at this juncture.”
As Congress has decided to go for AICC session, this means that Rahul Gandhi may contest organisational elections.
“Millions and millions of ordinary Congress workers have, on innumerable occasions, raised their voice to say that they want Rahul Gandhi to come back and take over the Presidentship of the INC…. that is a sentiment that was also again expressed today by all members of the Congress Working Committee,” Surjewala said.
“But, as we are all aware that we are a democratic party and the election will be held for the next President in an AICC session: dates for which at an appropriate time will be fixed by General Secretary Organisation. And it is the wish of everyone, including myself that Rahul Gandhi should take over. But, I cannot predict what will happen in an AICC session because that is the unanimous opinion of all Congress workers and leaders,” he added.
After the CWC meeting, the signatories to the letter calling for a change in the party leadership met at Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s residence.
Former Union Ministers Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal reached Azad’s residence and met for more than an hour, but it is not clear what transpired there.
In the Congress Working Committee meeting, Sharma, Azad and Wasnik were cornered by Gandhi loyalists, with even former Union Minister Ambika Soni targeting Azad, saying that he has not been without power for decades, so what problem does he have now, sources said.
Sources say that Azad, who is Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Sharma, his deputy, may find it tough to continue in their posts now.
“Irrespective of however hurtful the remarks in the past many years of any colleague may have been, she maintained that she has always risen above them to keep the Congress family together and to fight for the cause of the people. That is the message she gave to the Congress workers and the leaders,” he said.
The Monday meeting of CWC came in wake of the letter written by 23 leaders who questioned the party leadership and was promptly responded by Sonia Gandhi.
“She wrote me a letter on August 20, which contained an indication to ‘Begin Deliberation’ in order to put in place a process… today itself we decided to have an AICC session at the earliest,” said party General Secretary, Organisation, K.C. Venugopal. (IANS)