CWC meet today, Sonia Gandhi in favour of a new leader
Congress president Sonia Gandhi looks set to announce her decision to step down at Monday’s meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, after 103 Congress leaders wrote a letter to her this month, seeking a complete rehaul of the organisation.
The letter, which was signed by former chief ministers and members of Parliament, alleged “drift” and “uncertainty” over the leadership of the 134-year-old party. The letter was signed by, among others, Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Shashi Tharoor, Bhupinder Hooda, Milind Deora, Manish Tewari and PJ Kurien, and delivered to her residence – 10, Janpath – on Independence Day.
Hindustan Times has learnt that Gandhi responded to the letter a few days later with a hand-written note to one of the signatories.
According to two senior Congress leaders that HT spoke with, the 73-year-old Gandhi said Congress leaders should get together and find a new chief because she does not want to carry the responsibility of leading the party any longer.
Sonia Gandhi became interim president of the Congress after Rahul Gandhi quit as the party chief in May 2019, owning responsibility for the Congress’s rout in last year’s general elections, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led the National Democratic Alliance to power for the second straight term.
Expressing her sense of hurt at being targeted by party leaders who made the complaint against the Congress leadership public, Gandhi wrote in the note that she was not interested in leading the party and had accepted the post of interim chief after much persuasion only on condition that the party will find a replacement for her soon, according to the two senior leaders cited above, who requested anonymity.
Congress leaders made desperate pleas to her after Rahul Gandhi rejected their calls to withdraw the resignation that he offered on May 25, 2019.
For the record, party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: “Reports of Sonia Gandhi resigning from her post of Congress president are false.” The two leaders that HT spoke to confirmed that Gandhi was inclined to resign at the CWC meeting, called to discuss the leadership issue.
“If she has to resign, she may do so when she meets with the leadership tomorrow,” said one of the two leaders, requesting anonymity.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan said in Gwalior: “The Congress is bound to sink; no power in the world can save it.”
Also read | After letter, some Congress leaders back Gandhis
While Surjewala and other party leaders denied that she had already resigned, Monday’s CWC meeting is set to be a stormy one with a confrontation likely between those who are unhappy with the current style of functioning of the leadership (Sibal, Azad) and those that are part of the current power structure – KC Venugopal, Randeep Surjewala and Rajeev Satav, among others.
In a column published in Hindustan Times on August 4, Sibal wrote about the importance of value of organizations. “The management of a large public corporation committed to growth, with a huge shareholder base, has to deal with a host of complex issues. This requires the management to listen to the voice of its shareholders — a vital input for the corporation’s strategy, operations and growth,” the Congress leader wrote.
The organisers have decided to make it an extended session which will be attended by all Congress chief ministers. Chief ministers Amarinder Singh of Punjab, Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan and Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh released statements in favour of Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
One party leader told Hindustan Times that the letter had been leaked to the media to force a discussion on the leadership issue at the CWC meeting.
“This is not the right time to raise such an issue, given the need for a strong opposition against the BJP-led NDA,” said Amarinder Singh. “A move by these Congress leaders to demand a rehaul of the party at this critical juncture would be detrimental to its interests.”
“It’s very unfortunate. There was no need to go to the media. I strongly believe that Sonia Gandhiji should continue at this juncture,” said Gehlot.
The group of senior leaders wrote the letter after four months of deliberations, HT has learnt. While Kurien said that the full details of the letter would be released after the CWC meeting on Monday, another signatory told HT that they were forced to write the letter after months of frustration. “Senior leaders would approach the Gandhis but would be told to speak to Surjewala. How can some of these senior leaders seek a clarification from him?” the signatory added, requesting anonymity.
“It’s okay that they wrote a letter and expressed their concern,” said one Congress politician from the other side, also requesting that he not be named. “What is worrying is that they have been meeting about this issue. It means they have been actively seeking change.”
“She’s a very dignified lady and never wanted to be Congress president,” said CWC member and leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. “When she passes through Central Hall, she is greeted by MPs from all parties and this shows how much people regard her.”
In the letter, the 23 leaders have acknowledged an erosion of the party’s support base and pointed to the lack of honest introspection after electoral defeats. The leaders have also outlined an agenda for reform — a full-time, effective, active and visible president; elections at all levels in the party (including the CWC); establishing an institutional leadership model to collectively guide the party; and a national coalition with like-minded parties, among other measures.
Zoya Hasan, Professor Emerita, JNU, said: “The letter of 23 is certainly not a 1969 moment in the Congress. But it is a significant development as it is forcing the party’s hand. Such a letter has not been written in a long time. And that is its importance. Thanks to the letter, the Congress’s existential crisis is out in the open. The drift and failure to confront its deep crisis has harmed the party immensely. This uncertainty must end. Congress is divided on the leadership issue and on the role of Gandhis. If Sonia Gandhi quits, the question is who will replace her... the issue cannot be brushed under the carpet any longer. They need to sort themselves out and elect a full-time president.”