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Friday, April 16, 2021

Congress leadership in crisis: What is going on within the party?

After a lengthy, to be precise seven-hour-long CWC meeting on August 24, Sonia Gandhi remained interim president of the party ad it was decided that the new Congress president will be elected in the next six months. Senior Congress leaders KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala briefed the media on the resolution adopted by the panel during the meeting. In the resolution, CWC praised Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for being the “two voices” leading the way in exposing Central Government’s “inadequate responses” to the Coronavirus pandemic, the economic slowdown, the migrant workers’ crisis and more. “The CWC, reflecting the overwhelming view and desire of the rank and file of the Congress, unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Smt Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rahul Gandhi in every possible way,” the resolution read. However, the Congress leadership has been going through a turmoil for a long time now and members have been asking for changes in every level. How much longer until Sonia has to exit from her position completely? When will the leadership change finally? All these questions keep cropping up now and then.

“The CWC, reflecting the overwhelming view and desire of the rank and file of the Congress, unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Smt. Sonia Gandhi and Shri. Rahul Gandhi in every possible way,” said Congress leader KC Venugopal in the press briefing after CWC meet. Venugopal continued: “The two voices that have been at the forefront of exposing the Government’s inadequate responses, divisive politics and audacious propaganda are of Smt Sonia Gandhi and Shri Rahul Gandhi.” He said 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. Her leadership has rankled and embarrassed those occupying the highest offices in this government. Rahul Gandhi has resolutely led the fight against the government from the front,” he added.


The rebellion within

However, not everyone within the party feels the same way. As many as 23 senior leaders of the Congress, including five ex-Chief Ministers, several members of the Congress Working Committee, sitting MPs, and former Union Ministers, have written a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi, asking for new leaders at every level in the country’s oldest party. The letter also stated that the youngsters across the country have put their faith and without doubts chosen Narendra Modi as their leader over the age-old Congress party. It emphasised the decline of the party’s support base in the country and states how the youth losing confidence in the Congress should be a matter of grave concern. Things need to be thought through in terms of leadership soon or it might be too late for the party to bounce back to its former glory.

Sonia did not specifically comment on the contents of the letter or point fingers at the people who wrote it. In her concluding remarks at the end of the CWC meeting, the Congress’ interim president said she does not have bad blood against those who wrote the letter to her. “Let’s move ahead,” she said at the end.

Former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the same day as the CWC meet urged interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi to convince her son Rahul Gandhi to take up the party president post if she is not in the best self in terms of health. The Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly then later also requested Sonia to continue as AICC president. “And if you feel that your health may not permit for full-fledged dedication, I urge you to convince Shri Rahul Gandhi to take up the position,” Siddaramaiah wrote to Sonia Gandhi.

Speaking to reporters, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Uma Bharti said: “The Gandhi-Nehru family’s existence is in crisis, their political dominance is over. Congress is finished.. so who stays in what position hardly matters now… Congress should return to Gandhi, the real ‘swadeshi’ Gandhi without any foreign element.”


Why now?

The party hasn’t seen such a turmoil within its members neither has it seen such coordinated call for changes in the recent past. Sonia Gandhi had quite a hold on the party’s leadership and strengthened her roots in the early 2000s. It could also be the fact that the Congress was in power from 2004 to 2014, 10 long years, which helped lessen dissent or stunted its growth inside the organisation. Since the BJP gained power in the Centre in 2014, tension seems to have been on a rise in the opposition- Congress. The issues with Rahul Gandhi have been longstanding and not a new phenomenon. At certain points, it was behind the curtains but it came out in the open some way or the other. Things became wonky last month when the senior leader and former Union Minister Kapil Sibal asked for proper introspection and a detailed conversation to come to an understanding about then reason behind the party’s downward slide.

“Introspect by all means… but how we came to 44… that should also be looked into. We were 200-plus in 2009. Why and how we came to 44…, that should also be introspected… You are all saying this now. You were all Ministers then. Frankly, it should also be looked into where you failed. You have to introspect from the UPA 2 period,” young MP Rajeev Satav had said during a last month routine meeting of the party.

The longest period the Congress was not in power was between 1996 and 2004. There had been a severe crisis then too in the year 1998. But the only difference was that a non-Gandhi – Sitaram Kesri – was the leader of the then party. And what we can decipher is that the dissent or rebellion was against him for being a non-Gandhi and that the Delhi lobby orchestrated the entire rebellion to finally make Sonia the president. Even before that in the early 1990s, there was a crisis when there was a non-Gandhi Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao. This very rebellion had then led to ND Tiwari and Arjun Singh separating pathways and launching a new party.

However, this time the picture seems to be unclear — after all a Gandhi is at the top position. What could the issue then? I guess we will have to wait and see. Even after a lot of hullabaloo, Sonia is still interim president. Maybe we will see the real fight go down six months later when they finally chose a new Congress president.

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