Veterans and senior leaders of the Congress Party submitted a letter of dissent to the Interim Party President, Mrs Sonia Gandhi asking for sweeping changes. It demands a more effective and visible leadership to revive the party in the national sphere. The letter has aroused opinions and counter-arguments from within different factions of the Congress. Critics call it an unprecedented move in the history of the party.
The Congress Party has been functioning like a hierarchal family set up dominated by the Gandhis’ since years now. While Congress’s efforts in leading the country towards independence are applauded, lately it's mandate and leadership have looked weak. The party dynamics of the dominant Gandhi leadership has existed with very few non-Gandhi leaders. There has been a tussle for power for a long time. Rahul Gandhi has been under fire for his competency and skills. Besides, critics mentioned that era of Gandhi dominance is over and Congress needs a fresh mandate to able to fight neck to neck at elections. On 24th August 2020, the Congress Working Committee is meeting to discuss the issue of leadership in present times.
Congress has had its fair share of intra-party splits over the years. The prime ones being the Congress Split of 1907 in the pre-independence era, the division between Mrs Indira Gandhi’s Congress (R) and Congress (O) in 1969 in the post-independence period. Recently, the Rajasthan assembly led by Congress saw some glitches. The power dynamics were brought under question with CM Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot fighting crook to crook. The blocs were divided and it seemed like an internal party feud which rose to national importance.
Information started flooding the news about Mrs Sonia Gandhi stepping down as the interim Party President. Sources denied it, however, she expressed her unwillingness to continue to the Congress Working Committee on Monday. But, there was a catch, many party workers gathered outside the All India Congress Committee raising slogans that no one except the Gandhis’ would be accepted as Party President. This showed the divide existing within the part pertaining to the leadership issue. A letter of dissent has surfaced in which over 300 signatories have concerns about the weak and void leadership of the party. The letter is seen as a criticism to Rahul Gandhi’s functioning and comments about the setting of the party’s major agendas even as he refuses to claim the title of the party president. The letter of dissent is viewed as a warning to the existing leadership has decimated as the opposition in the times when the country needs one to hold the BJP led government accountable in times of economic and security crisis.
The letter suggests decentralised functioning and collective decision making. The letter also calls upon for the revival of the parliamentary boards and polls to the CWC. The committee consists all of three- Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi and hence, the dissenting camp are concerned over the possibility of a ‘loyal’ party chief being installed and is demanding and collaborative leadership. The letter is signed by Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Manish Tewari, Verrapa Moily, Milind Deora amongst others.
The CWC may request Mrs Gandhi to continue or Rahul to take charge. However, due to Mrs Gandhi’s concern and ill health, it looks unlikely. Rahul has remained unresponsive towards the loyalists to return as chief leading to fewer chances of him taking a stance.
Amidst this frenzy, a lot of confusion has gone down. Reports circulated that Rahul Gandhi commented about the letter of dissent that, ‘the letter was sent on the behest of BJP and that there was possible collusion’. There was a counter-argument from some congress leaders stating that the timing of the letter was insensitive as Mrs Gandhi’s health is not at its best and others saying that Rahul must end the ambiguity over being the Party President. Kapil Sibal retaliated and took to twitter after the alleged remark by Rahul saying, “In last 30 years, we have never made a statement on any issue. Yet we are colliding with BJP!” This was taken down and Sibal mentioned that Rahul personally informed that he never said what was attributed to him. Further, Ghulam Nabi Azad clarified after the ‘so-called’ remark and announced that he would quit all posts if the charge is proven. However, he later went on and said, “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".
The remarks by Sibal and Azad came after Rahul Gandhi reportedly lashed out at the leaders who had written the letter and questioned its timing. Gandhi reportedly said the letter was written at a time when the party was battling a crisis in Rajasthan and Sonia Gandhi was unwell.
Congress national spokesperson Randeep Surjewala clarified clearly and said Rahul Gandhi never made such remarks and warned against being misled by “false media discourse”. “Rahul Gandhi hasn’t said a word of this nature nor alluded to it. Pl don’t be mislead by false media discourse or misinformation being spread. But yes, we all need to work together in fighting the draconian Modi rule rather than fighting & hurting each other and the Congress,” he tweeted. The media was on the hook while reporting the discussions. However, amidst the reporting, the ‘alleged’ remark became the highlight.
This letter of dissent is a result after two consecutive defeats at the Lok Sabha elections against the BJP. Rahul Gandhi resigned in 2019 after the defeat as party president. The need for revival is necessary so as to provide a strong and critical opposition at the centre. What is interesting to see the spectacle created around the power dynamics in the Congress Party. The internal feuds and affairs always assume light; be it the Gehlot VS Pilot or currently the letter of dissent.
The meeting resulted in Sonia Gandhi continuing as interim president for the next six months until elections for the leadership.