Party is getting weak, say Congress 'letter writers'
A meeting to felicitate former Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from Kashmir (and a former chief minister of the state) Ghulam Nabi Azad, and launch a campaign against the Bharatiya Janata Party, also ended up being a platform for some of the speakers — all Congressmen — to air their views on the state of their own party.
Azad, and many of the other speakers, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Hooda, Manish Tewari and Vivek Tankha are among the 23 signatories of an August letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi seeking changes in how the party is run, including an election for organisational posts. The meeting was noticed in Delhi with Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi pointing out that the party would be better served if the leaders campaigned in election-going states. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam, and the Union Territory of Puducherry will go to the polls starting in March; the results will be announced on May 2.
“This is an occasion and podium to speak truth and the truth is that Congress is getting weak and therefore we have assembled here to make it strong together,” said Rajya Sabha (RS) member of Parliament (MP) Kapil Sibal. Organised under the banner of a Shanti Sammelan’ or peace meeting by a body called the Gandhi Global Family (a reference to Mahatma Gandhi), the meeting was well-attended. Azad is a popular figure in the Union Territory.
Last August, the 23 leaders wrote a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in which they called for “full-time and effective leadership”, elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), and a mechanism to guide the party’s revival. At the last meeting of the CWC last month, they decided to postpone internal elections which did not go down well with the letter writers. Subsequent, party appointments have seen younger leaders who want Rahul Gandhi back as the party president being given precedence in organisational appointments over some of the signatories.
In his address, Sibal expressed his unhappiness that the party didn’t choose to accommodate Azad in Parliament after his retirement.
“Now, what is the real role of Ghulam Nabi Azad… we need an experienced pilot to fly a plane and an engineer to fix any technical snag. Azad is experienced and an engineer too. Why am I saying this is because he knows reality of the Congress in every state and district. And, when we realised that Azad is being freed from Parliament we felt sad. We never wanted him to be freed from Parliament,” he said.
“I fail to understand that why Congress is not using his experience.”
Sibal said that they wanted the party to be strengthened in every state and every village because a weak Congress would mean a weak country.The Congress leader also took a swipe at PM Narendra Modi, saying: “Today, the problem India confronts is that she has a rajneta (leader) whose sole ambition is to empower his party and not the people of the country.”
Azad avoided criticising the Congress and spoke of how he was impressed by the Gandhian philosophy while a student of SP College in Srinagar in 1969. He criticised the BJP government for dividing the state of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K) in two UTs in 2019
“One-and-a-half years ago, we were dismembered... the state was shredded into pieces and today we are being divided in the name of religion and regions,” he said.
“But we will keep fighting for statehood in Parliament and outside till we get it,” he asserted, telling the audience that while he has retired from the Rajya Sabha, he hasn’t from politics. Other Congress leaders Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Hooda, Raj Babbar and Vivek Tankha also addressed the rally.
Anand Sharma said that for the first time since the 1950s, Jammu and Kashmir does not have a representative in the Rajya Sabha but it will be “corrected” soon.
Speaking in Delhi at a press briefing, Singhvi responded to the meeting by saying that the leaders were “senior and highly respected, well-regarded persons of the party, and they are part of this Congress family”.
“The best contribution to the Congress cause would be to get active in the various abhiyans which are going on in the various states that are going to elections. It is important to campaign in the five states and I would like to remind all of that.”
In response, one of those who attended the meeting said: “None of us were put into the list of star campaigners in the last elections. So how do they expect us to campaign now?”
Azad and Vivek Tankha are scheduled to address another meeting on Sunday. There are no fixed plans for future meetings yet, said the leader cited above, asking not to be named.