“Let’s move ahead,” Congress President, Sonia Gandhi reportedly told the senior leaders who participated in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday. Eventually, it took seven hours for the leaders of the ‘grand old’ party of India, to reach the decision that 73-year-old Sonia Gandhi should continue to lead them. Till the foreseeable future as 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.” She will also “affect necessary organisational changes”. Gandhi is likely to soon appoint a core committee that will assist her in discharging her duties as the party president.
In her signature style of settling ruffled feathers, she has managed to nip a rebellion while at the same time assuring party workers with the message that the leadership was listening to their opinions, and questions. Sonia Gandhi has asked the party to move on from the past and work together to confront the current government on issues and policies that include, “downward-spiralling” economy, “massive job losses” and a “brazen” Chinese occupation of Indian territory, stated a report in The Wire.
A special invitee to the CWC present in the meeting told The Wire that the 52 members of the extended CWC, who were part of Monday’s meeting, have agreed to have a committee of four members. This is a big signal towards “ democratisation” of the party, which has been criticised as being led by the Gandhi family alone.
The Wire reports that the head of the committee “will serve as the Congress president’s deputy, taking on a role similar to that of a vice-president – even though the party’s constitution does not have such a role etched.”
In 2012, when Sonia Gandhi had appointed a sub-group to help her, as she faced health issues. Rajya Sabha MPs Ahmed Patel and A.K. Antony, along with then general secretary organisation Janardhan Dwivedi, formed the sub-group, recalled The Wire. Moving ahead, the Congress is also planning on starting a new membership drive, ahead of the planned internal elections which will be held when the Covid-19 protocol permits.
All is well in the Congress then, if this happy ending was to be seen at face value. But under the calm surface, there may still be cross currents. Clearly there were many storms to weather before everyone eventually agreed that “Congress was a one big family,” and even Gandhi herself had to assure her party members that she had no ill feelings towards anyone. Not even those who wrote a ‘rebellious letter’ about a leadership crisis. The leader has now told them that senior members of the party should raise such issues on the official party forum only. However, this is perhaps the beginning of tougher days ahead for the Congress. What happened at the CWC meeting on Monday, may have a long lasting impact on their future political strategy.
Thanks to the Covid-19 protocol, the CWC meeting, held online, was also perhaps one with a massive audience. Those on social media, watched, first in a bit of a surprise, then shock, and later perhaps in amusement as bits and pieces of the ‘confidential’ meeting leaked out. And senior leaders too could not help but comment about what was going on, in full public view.
The raging embers were reportedly fuelled in the Working Committee meeting over Rahul Gandhi’s purported remark’s that the letter signed by 23 congress leaders was penned, in collusion with Bharatiya Janata Party. Eventually, leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had threatened to quit if that was proven, clarified that Gandhi never alleged that, and his offer to quit was for different reasons.
A section of media is wrongly attributing that, in CWC I told Shri Rahul Gandhi to prove that the letter written by us is in collusion with BJP-“let me make it very clear that Shri Rahul Gandhi has neither in CWC nor outside said that this letter was written at the behest of BJP”
— Ghulam Nabi Azad (@ghulamnazad) August 24, 2020
Keyboards tapped away, and lawyer and Congress politician Kapil Sibal tweeted, and deleted an acerbic comment, and later added that he was assured by Rahul Gandhi “personally that he never said what was attributed to him”.
Was informed by Rahul Gandhi personally that he never said what was attributed to him .
I therefore withdraw my tweet .
— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) August 24, 2020
Meanwhile, at the meeting itself, as more online leaks to the media revealed, Sonia Gandhi had sent her party colleagues into a tizzy when she asked them to discuss a possible “transition” so she could step down as party president. After many ‘emotional’ appeals and reasonings, the ‘crisis’ came to pass and party spokesperson KC Venugopal announced after the meeting ended that an official “resolution” was passed confirming support to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. A peaceful closure for the party, for now.
And a lot of political ammunition has obviously been collected by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies now. The crucial Bihar elections are coming soon, and these ‘leaks’ from the CWC are likely to be used against them, then.
The Congress perhaps will now work harder to show itself as a united, revived and updated political force to reckon with. However, it is to be expected that the BJP will keep talking about “dynasty” rule, even if it too is studded with leaders hailing from political families, or from those affiliated to right wing legacies, themselves.
The Congress will now have to address national issues such as lack of health and food security, the risk of starvation, unemployment, hate crimes, crimes against women and children, and the growth of hate speech and attacks on dissent, with a renewed vigour. It has to now work hard to be seen as a party that has the courage to speak truth to power, and to openly question the Union Government.
Here are just a couple of issues, from many, that need attention.
2: Condition of migrant workers who were forced to return home during Covid-19 lockdown.
4: Upholding the Constitutional values in the justice system.
This is what the resolution adopted by the party at CWC, which took “note of the letter of Congress President, Smt. Sonia Gandhi addressed to General Secretary (Organisation) as also a letter written earlier by certain Congress leaders to the Congress President,” states:
Resolution passed by Congress Working Committee. pic.twitter.com/yXBg0qi0fE
— Congress (@INCIndia) August 24, 2020
This is the summary of key points:
1: The nation in the throes of multiple crises. We have been beset by (i) the Corona pandemic that continues to claim thousands of lives, (ii) downward-spiraling economy, (iii) massive job losses and growing poverty, and (iv) brazen aggression into and occupation of Indian territory by the Chinese.
2: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been the “two voices calling out Government’s inadequate responses, divisive politics and audacious propaganda. Sonia Gandhi’s hard questions on the handling of the migrants’ crisis put this Government to shame. She ensured that Congress-ruled states tackled the pandemic effectively and provided access to healthcare and treatment to all sections of the people.”
3: Their voices have “inspired a generation of Indians, both within and outside of the Indian National Congress, to rise and demand answers from this Government which seeks to desperately distract the people through shallow and manufactured issues.”
4: Internal party issues “can not be deliberated through the media or in public fora.” Raise such issues “only in party fora in the interest of propriety and discipline.”
5: Congress President authorised to “affect necessary organisational changes that she may deem appropriate to take on the challenges.”
According to a report in the Indian express, senior leaders of the Congress, including five former Chief Ministers, CWC members, sitting MPs, and several former Union Ministers, had written to Sonia Gandhi, a fortnight ago, calling for sweeping changes, from top to bottom. The letter reportedly even acknowledged the rise of the BJP and the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who it says the youth voted for. It raised concerns at this shift in the youth vote, as that hinted at loss of confidence in the party from the nation’s young citizens.
That letter, in effect, was a critique of the way the party was being led now, and called for a “full time and effective leadership” which is both “visible” and “active” in the field. It also critiques the internal institutional process within the party. The signatories to the letter, according to IE, included Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad; party MPs and former Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor; MP Vivek Tankha; AICC office bearers and CWC members including Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada and former Chief Ministers and Union Ministers including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Rajender Kaur Bhattal, M Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan, P J Kurian, Ajay Singh, Renuka Chaudhary, and Milind Deora; former PCC chiefs Raj Babbar (UP), Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal); current Bihar campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma; former Delhi Speaker Yoganand Shastri and former MP Sandeep Dixit.