Hours before the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Monday, a letter signed by 20-odd senior leaders has triggered a political storm in the party. Through the letter addressed to Congress’ interim boss Sonia Gandhi, a section of these leaders has demanded collective leadership and drastic organisational overhaul, with another section seeking the return of Rahul Gandhi at the party’s helm.
With battle-lines drawn between pro and anti-Rahul camps, the letter has set the stage for a massive political showdown in the CWC scheduled for Monday. Sources say that with the situation taking a murky turn, Sonia Gandhi may, under pressure, offer to step down as party interim chief, following which the top decision-making body may see frantic efforts by a big group of leaders to persuade Rahul Gandhi to take the reins of the Congress as soon as possible. CWC has a good numerical strength of leaders supporting Rahul Gandhi, given the fact that the nonregular members and other irregulars will also be attending the meeting.
Rajasthan Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot said that Sonia Gandhi should continue to lead the party but if she has made up her mind (to step down), Rahul Gandhi should take charge as party president. This means indications are strong that the CWC meet is likely to see Sonia Gandhi offering to quit as the boss and Rahul Gandhi being coaxed into accepting the role of party chief.
CM Gehlot, who too will attend the CWC meet on Monday, said, “News of 23 senior-most Congress leaders writing to the honourable CP (Congress interim president) is unbelievable and if true, unfortunate. There was no need to go to the media. I strongly believe that Smt. Sonia Gandhiji should continue to lead the party at this crucial juncture where the fight is to save the ethos of our democracy. She has always taken challenges head on. But if she has made up her mind, I believe Rahul Gandhi should step forward and be the Congress president as the country faces the biggest challenge to save our Constitution and democracy.” Congress chief ministers Captain Amarinder Singh (Punjab) and Bhupesh Baghel (Chhattisgarh) also endorsed Gehlot’s line on this.
According to sources, the letter has been in the works for at least the past month. Over the recent weeks, there has been a rumble of criticism and demand for reforms from a section of leaders who include party veterans like Anand Sharma, Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor and young leaders like Jitin Prasada and Milind Deora.
“The letter, dated 7 August, was written just before the Congress was able to broker a truce between Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot. Signed by senior leaders like Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Prithviraj Chavan, Vivek Tankha and Anand Sharma, it called for a full-time, effective leadership that will be ‹visible and active in the field›,» says a source.
The unrest within the party started to surface as Rahul Gandhi started his own narrative and attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a number of issues.
A section of the old guard was upset with Rahul, saying that he was remote-controlling the party and making all appointments and taking all decisions.
It is being said that the letter has been leaked so that the dissent of the oldies could be preempted and pressure for making Rahul Gandhi party chief could be created. After sending the letter, the veterans could have built up pressure on the CWC, taking the youngsters by surprise. But after the letter got leaked, the old guard may be feeling dejected.
The veterans, who have signed this letter, and Rahul Gandhi were not getting along for a long time now. It so happened that these leaders had a plan to appoint Mukul Wasnik as party interim chief after Rahul Gandhi resigned last year. As per the party Constitution, if the post of chief falls vacant the senior-most general secretary is appointed in the post for the time being. Wasnik is the only leader who is general secretary for the last 20 years. But Rahul Gandhi d proposed the name of K.C. Venugopal, which spoilt Mukul Wasnik’s chances. Then the older leaders proposed Sonia’s name as interim president. But the appointment of a permanent chief is yet to take place, due to which there is persistent ambiguity about the leadership, which, according to the old guard, is one of the reasons behind the fall of the party’s graph. That is why one of their demands is for a collective leadership.