The Telegraph
Sunday , May 25 , 2014
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Shun blame game: Sonia

Sonia Gandhi addresses the Congress meeting in Parliament on Saturday. (PTI)

New Delhi, May 24: Sonia Gandhi today appealed to party leaders to debate the electoral rout internally instead of fighting in public, stressing that their “inputs” would be “critical” to future planning.

If her remarks were an acknowledgment of the blame game that has erupted in the party, they also signalled the leadership’s readiness to listen and respond with sensitivity.

“Your inputs, your experience and your assessment of our strengths and weaknesses — rather than public acrimony — will be critical to that exercise (of review and future planning),” Sonia said.

She was speaking after being elected chairperson of the Congress parliamentary party at a joint meeting of the newly elected Lok Sabha members and sitting Rajya Sabha members this afternoon.

Sonia has been authorised to nominate the party’s leaders in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, along with the chief whips and other office-bearers. The CPP adopted a resolution saying the electoral setback could not obscure the contributions of Sonia or son Rahul Gandhi.

The party president’s statement comes at a time the pent-up frustration and anguish of Congress leaders is bursting forth in different forms daily.

While some have targeted Rahul’s team, others have pointed to a communication gap, an inept campaign, poor candidate selection and even factionalism and sluggish decision-making.

Sonia knows that a crackdown could be counter-productive now and that the emotional outbursts need to be tackled with tact and flexibility.

Although general secretary Janaradan Dwivedi made a reference to party “discipline” in the context of the public squabbling, Sonia was exceptionally accommodative. She said this week’s Congress Working Committee meeting to review the causes of the defeat was only a beginning.

“We need to reflect more, deliberate more, debate more and draw the right lessons. Your role in that exercise will be crucial and I invite you to participate in it in the days ahead,” she added.

Sonia reminded the party that even amid this rout, over 10 crore voters had supported the party.

“They believe in the fundamental values of our party: parliamentary democracy, secularism, inclusive development and social justice. What we have to do now is work hard to recapture the larger support base that the Congress has traditionally enjoyed.”

With many party leaders, both veterans and greenhorns, airing their assessments of the defeat before the media, the possibility of a factional war has been taking shape.

Some of the accusations have been extremely embarrassing for the leadership and could complicate any future exercises at reforming the party.

While Rahul aide Milind Deora has triggered a statement war by his candid talk, even the former diplomat Shashi Tharoor and the seasoned Abhishek Singhvi have aired their blueprints for a revival before the media.

An article by Singhvi, the party’s senior-most spokesperson, has turned out to be a damning critique of the party leadership’s style of functioning.

He has claimed that the available talent was not put to optimal use, that outsiders were promoted while dynamic state leaders were seen as a threat, and that some ministers were arrogant and inaccessible.

Singhvi’s most intriguing comment has been: “No individual or group should be allowed to hijack issues or commit the party to stands which later cost it dear and become a noose round its neck. The individuals and issues in this regard are too well known to need identification.”

This is being debated fiercely in Congress circles and has caused both joy and heartburn.

The CPP resolution said the Congress would be constructive and responsible in Opposition but would hold the government accountable to its pledges and fight any attempt to abandon or subvert constitutional principles.

Sonia, though, rued that the BJP’s opposition to some bills during UPA rule “was not based on any principle or argument but simply on cussedness and outright political opportunism”.

“You will recall that the BJP propounded the infamous theory that obstructing Parliament is a legitimate parliamentary device,” she said.

The resolution said: “We hope all progressive and secular forces in Parliament will coordinate their strategies effectively so as to present a united and cohesive Opposition which is the lifeblood of any democracy.”

Sonia too pointed to the overall parliamentary strength of the Congress, which is still the largest party in the Rajya Sabha, and hoped it would be able to act like a formidable Opposition alongside like-minded parties.