As expected, the Congress Working Committee failed to discuss serious issues raised by several senior leaders, but instead slammed them while rejecting Sonia Gandhi’s resignation as the interim president, urging her to continue till her replacement was found in the next three to six months. The stormy meeting turned out to be a blatant display of sycophancy by members whose political relevance is next to negligible as they turned the tables on the “dissidents” by overlooking the important concerns highlighted in the letter to the interim president.
The so-called dissidents, who include the current leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad and half a dozen former Chief Ministers, found themselves heavily outnumbered, even though the matters raised by them to strengthen the party, have found resonance amongst each and every Congress worker. Ironically, if the letter had not been written and sent to the High Command, the casual approach of the leadership regarding critical subjects would have gone unnoticed.
In fact, those who dared to bell the cat would have their names carved out in the history of the party, since their political future at the moment looks bleak, given that they would now be targeted by the Gandhis, collectively as well as individually. Multiple messages emanated from the CWC meeting, the foremost being that the party has no option but to accept the “ineffective leadership” that has resulted in a humiliating defeat in two parliamentary elections.
It was also very evident that Sonia Gandhi believes in status quo, and she managed to keep this opinion intact by ensuring that there was no threat to her leadership; and the position of those whom she trusts remains unaffected. The deliberations, however, damaged Rahul Gandhi, who from being a leader who could have easily been accepted by the entire party, reduced himself to be the head of a faction, after he accused the dissidents of colluding with the BJP. Although Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala later denied that he had made any such remarks and both Azad and Kapil Sibal tried to play down the accusations, the damage could not be undone.
The CWC conceded the demand to have an elected party president to succeed Sonia, but this entire exercise could get reduced to a farce, if they are held under the overall supervision of the interim chief. Two of her closest aides — Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni — were very active and openly rooted for Rahul Gandhi to be reinstated, something which appears improbable for the time being. This could have been mere posturing. Significantly, the authors of the letter are opposed to the idea of Rahul returning as the president but majority of them would wholehearted support Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, if she jumped into the fray.
The point that needs to be emphasised is that the issues raised in the letter are indisputable and to begin with, even those close to the Congress president did not refute any of the points but instead questioned the timing of the communication, when Sonia was “ill”. But the same members did not ponder even for a moment for extending the tenure of an “ill” person as the interim president for the next few months.
The washing of dirty linen in public also became a talking point amongst party workers who are keen to have a leader who can show them the way to take on the BJP. From the point of view of the cadres, the allegation made by Rahul against the writers of the letter that they were colluding with the BJP, was to some degree factual, at least in a few cases. Some of these leaders have been in touch with the Saffron Brigade, and would not take any time if they got a chance to shift loyalties.
Simultaneously, the workers want the coterie around Sonia to be held accountable for the current state of the party. It is an overwhelming opinion that Rahul has been damaged more by the Sonia coterie than by the BJP. However, his continuation would benefit the BJP much more than the Congress since his approach to politics lacked the desired gravitas.
Majority of Congress leaders are of the opinion that the decision-making mechanism in the Congress was very centralised; Sonia had all the powers. She was the party chief, the UPA chairperson, the leader of the Parliamentary Party and even during the period of the Manmohan Singh government, she called the shots, being the chairperson of the National Advisory Council and thus the de-facto Prime Minister of sorts.
The demand for the reconstitution of the Parliamentary Board comes in the wake of all decisions regarding the appointments and selection of nominees for the Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council, being taken by the interim president, without any kind of consultations. In the latest instance, the appointment of Ajay Maken in place of Avinash Pande as the general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan has rubbed many seniors the wrong way.
The Congress could be heading for a split but for the time being, the dissidents stand exposed to the danger of losing their important positions though the Gandhis have also been bruised in this battle that ensued before, after and during the CWC meeting. The status quo shall be maintained and it is more than obvious that the Gandhis are not willing to let go of their hold over the party. At least, not for present.