Seed of letter germinated at dinner hosted by Tharoor five months ago
Prominent among those who attended Tharoor’s dinner – but did not sign the letter asking for a “visible” and “active” leader – are former Union minister P Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram, Sachin Pilot, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Mani Shankar Iyer.Updated: Aug 25, 2020, 04:57 IST
Informal deliberations over the need for reforms within the Congress party started at least five months ago at a dinner hosted by Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, several Congressmen who were his guests have confirmed to HT -- a disclosure that highlights that the letter sent to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi by 23 leaders was in the making for some time.
Importantly, many who were a part of the dinner meeting have not put their signatures to the letter, which was addressed to Gandhi and sent on August 7. Prominent among those who attended Tharoor’s dinner – but did not sign the letter asking for a “visible” and “active” leader – are former Union minister P Chidambaram, his son Karti Chidambaram, Sachin Pilot, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Mani Shankar Iyer.
Singhvi confirmed his presence at the dinner. “I was invited to the dinner by Shashi Tharoor at a day’s notice. There was an informal discussion on the constructive issue of reforms within the party. Subsequently, I was not informed about the formulation of the letter, at any stage,” he told HT.
Chidambaram said he did not want to comment on “party affairs”. Pilot, only last month, led a revolt against Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, before returning to the party fold, after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and did not comment on the matter. Tharoor did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.
Mani Shankar Iyer was more forthright , saying, “I did not sign [the letter] because I was not asked to. Nobody approached me.” Of the dinner in March, Iyer said, “There was a general discussion to revive the party and the need to go back to our secular credentials. There was a suggestion, which nobody opposed, of the need to send a letter. Nobody, however, approached me after that dinner.”
The Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, discussed the controversial letter signed by the leaders at a marathon session on Monday -- and then decided to maintain status quo, although there was talk that she would now be assisted by a committee for the next six months till a meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). The CWC resolution, however, made no mention of a committee.
One Member of Parliament, who is a signatory to the letter and was also at Tharoor’s dinner, said on condition of anonymity that he signed because he believes that there is an urgent need for reforms within the Congress. “It is about issues, not personalities. The Gandhis and other senior leaders should read the message and not shoot the messenger. We have put our names to the letter because we believe that we need to reform. There is no cloak and dagger here.”
The letter represented the first direct questioning of the Gandhis. The party has faced revolts in the past but no one from within has challenged the authority of Sonia Gandhi since Sharad Pawar’s revolt in 1999.
The larger point made at the end of the day, after the long meeting of the CWC, was the need for the party to stay united. It will be of little comfort to the Gandhis that there are many within the fold who did not put their signature to the letter but are in favour of seeing a reformed Congress.