Seniors mince no words at Sonia meeting
The leadership crisis in the Congress dominated interim chief Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with the party’s Rajya Sabha members on Thursday, with the leaders making a strong pitch for Rahul Gandhi to return to the helm as soon as possible.
August 10 provides an opening for Rahul’s possible return as Sonia’s term as interim president ends that day. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) will have to decide whether to extend the stopgap arrangement or go for a full-fledged chief. Sonia is believed to be extremely reluctant to continue and the exceptional emphasis on the leadership crisis at Thursday’s meeting has laid bare the deepening unease in the party.
While over 70 per cent of the speakers at the meeting, held through videoconferencing, made a strident demand for Rahul’s immediate return, some senior leaders who did not take anybody’s name also made it clear that muddling along like this was not acceptable. Such a demand had been raised at Sonia’s meeting with the Congress’s Lok Sabha members as well last month.
Leaders like P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ambika Soni and Shaktisinh Gohil expressed shock at Thursday’s session at the Congress’s inability to exploit the Narendra Modi government’s abysmal failures, sources said.
Although the deliberations were strictly confidential, the sources said Chidambaram lamented that a few leaders were active individually but the party had miserably failed to make an impact collectively.
Explaining the lack of direction because of the leadership crisis, Chidambaram purportedly said the Congress had failed to establish itself as a credible alternative and the impact on the ground of its limited political activities wasn’t even 10 per cent of the desired level. He is believed to have said that every party worker and leader would have to contribute if the Congress intended to regain its glory.
Chidambaram, the sources said, contended that blaming the media’s propensity to help Modi would not work as convincing the people about the Prime Minister’s failures was the Congress’s responsibility.
Sibal, according to the sources, said the Congress should introspect what was wrong with the party if even the deepening crisis on every front could not make the people to look for alternatives. He purportedly said the people missed “an active Opposition”, which appeared directionless and rudderless.
Young Rajiv Satav is said to have countered this point, saying the introspection should start from UPA-II when the Congress’s decline began and that it was not merely a development of the past few months. This did not provoke a rebuttal from the senior leaders, who had held key portfolios in the Manmohan Singh government that is perceived to have lost its way somewhere around 2012, sowing the seeds of the disastrous performance in the 2014 election.
The seniors who took the initiative to highlight the leadership crisis that began when Rahul relinquished the party president’s post after the 2019 elections didn’t oppose the chorus for his return, perhaps because they were more interested in reigniting the revival process under a full-fledged leader instead of stagnating in uncertainty and endless wait.
Leaders like Satav, P.L. Punia, K.C. Venugopal, Ami Yagnik, Syed Nasser Hussain, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Pratap Singh Bajwa and Gohil forcefully asked for Rahul’s return. Some of them bluntly told Sonia to initiate the process without wasting any time.
These MPs said Rahul was the only leader who had shown the direction to the country during the Covid-19 crisis and also compellingly articulated the national concern over the Chinese intrusions.
Usually, meetings such as Thursday’s are strictly controlled and only senior leaders like Sonia and Manmohan speak, but veteran Ahmed Patel is said to have ensured that the floor was thrown open this time and everybody spoke.
The seniors too were not hostile to Rahul though they indirectly held him responsible for the leadership crisis. An MP told The Telegraph: “That nobody opposed this chorus showed the readiness of the party to have a new leader now — Rahul or someone else. Nobody said this question should not be raised as Soniaji was handling the party well. Even Soniaji behaved as if her exit was inevitable. We felt this was her farewell meeting. It will be truly unfortunate if the CWC extends her tenure or Rahul refuses to come back as president. He has already inflicted serious harm on the party and himself by walking away.”
There is, however, no clarity on the process of Rahul’s return. A party functionary said: “The CWC hasn’t accepted his resignation and Sonia had only been appointed interim president as a stopgap arrangement. The CWC can simply pass a resolution that his resignation is not accepted and he will return by honouring the party’s wish. There is no need for a fresh appointment.”
Another view is that the Congress must turn Rahul’s return into a big event and use the occasion to motivate party workers across the country. The ongoing restrictions on public gatherings will not allow such a plan at present but an event could be arranged through videoconferencing.
Some felt Sonia could express her desire not to continue after August 10 and set in motion the election of a new president, which could be done within a couple of months.