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Home / India News / A look at how Congress faced a similar leadership crisis in 1998-99

A look at how Congress faced a similar leadership crisis in 1998-99

Many Congress leaders are reminiscing the 1998-99 timeline, when the party saw its last major revolt and questions were raised over the leadership on the lines of the ongoing kerfuffle

india Updated: Aug 24, 2020, 11:11 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Sonia Gandhi had repeatedly turned down appeals to join the Congress following the assassination of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991.
Sonia Gandhi had repeatedly turned down appeals to join the Congress following the assassination of her husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991.(Arvind Yadav/HT PHOTO)

Many Congress leaders are reminiscing the 1998-99 timeline, when the party saw its last major revolt and questions were raised over the leadership on the lines of the ongoing kerfuffle.

Also read: CWC meet: Possible scenarios

Sonia Gandhi had repeatedly turned down appeals to join the Congress – following the assassination of her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 – until 1997, when she agreed to enter politics and became a primary member of the party at its Kolkata plenary.

Prior to Gandhi’s political plunge, the former PM PV Narsimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari had led the Congress and also faced internal revolt that had cut short their reign at the trop.

While Rao had to step down in 1996, Kesari was removed in a hurriedly-called meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the apex executive body, which will meet on Monday to tackle the current leadership crisis.

Kesari was blamed for the party’s lack of preparedness for the mid-term elections in 1998 and his style of decision-making had ruffled the feathers of several leaders, including R Kumaramangalam and Aslam Sher Khan, who had quit the Congress in protest.

On March 14, 1998, Gandhi was elected as the Congress president. The biggest challenge for her was to rejuvenate and unite the faction-ridden party.

But over a year later on May 15, 1999, and just before the Lok Sabha elections, three leaders --- Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar -- revolted against her, challenging her projection as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, ostensibly on the grounds of her foreign origin.

Soon, she resigned from the post.

In her resignation letter to the CWC, Gandhi had written: “Although born in a foreign land, I chose India as my country and would remain an Indian till my last breath. India is my motherland, dearer to me than my own life.”

The move prompted a resignation spree from several party leaders and also the then Congress chief ministers such as Digvijaya Singh (Madhya Pradesh), Sheila Dikshit (Delhi), Ashok Gehlot (Rajasthan) and Giridhar Gamang (Odisha). Hundreds of party workers had gone on hunger-strike and a nationwide agitation was launched to request her to take back the resignation.

Finally, Gandhi relented and agreed to withdraw her resignation only after the party expelled Pawar, Sangma and Anwar for six years on May 20, 1999. She informed the party leaders of her decision on May 24, 1999. The next day, a special session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) was convened to welcome her back as the party chief.

The grand old party appears to have come full circle in its 134-year-old history.

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