A letter written by over 20 senior Congress leaders to Sonia Gandhi over the leadership issue created murmurs within the party, exposing a clear divide ahead of the crucial Congress Working Committee meeting. The CWC meeting which took place on Monday in the wake of the letter saw leaders sitting for seven hours to discuss the contents of the letter with many criticising the signatories.
Sonia Gandhi in her opening remarks offered to resign from the president’s post and requested the CWC members to start the process for transition. The seven-hour meeting ended with the CWC again unanimously requesting Sonia Gandhi to continue to lead the party.
Senor leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada — all CWC members who were among the 23 leaders to sign the unprecedented letter written to Sonia, argued forcefully that the issues raised by them need discussion and redressal. Other signatories of the August 7 letter included senior leaders Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor.
According to a report in The Indian Express, soon after the CWC meeting was over, at least nine of the letter’s signatories met at Azad’s residence.
Speaking to the daily, Sharma said that the co-signatories of the letter were keen to know about the deliberations at the CWC. He said that the discussion was free and frank and that everybody is satisfied, adding that “Azad, Wasnik and I put forth our views”.
“The document (letter) was not available for all CWC members. There were a lot of misreadings and misinterpretations, which led to some uncharitable comments made against us. I demanded that it should be made available to everyone and released to the public so that people know what the issues are,” Sharma said.
He said that Sonia in her concluding statement asked leaders to be united and described signatories of the letter as “valued colleagues”.
“The Congress president’s concluding statement was most gracious, giving a clear message of reconciliation, saying let whatever has happened be behind us and let’s be united and move forward. She said even if I was hurt by a leak of some excerpts, these are my valued colleagues. We respect her and this has brought it to a very amicable closure,” he said.
“We need to wait and watch how this pans out,” another signatory was quoted as saying in the daily.
The IE report said that leaders who signed the five-page letter made it clear at the beginning of the CWC meeting that they were not against Sonia or Rahul Gandhi. Azad and Sharma dismissed charges that they were against the Gandhis and pointed out that the letter makes it clear that the Nehru-Gandhi family will always be an ‘integral part’ of the party’s collective leadership.
They said that almost half of the letter is ‘against the BJP/RSS’ and that there are three paragraphs recounting contributions to the party from Jawaharlal Nehru to Sonia and Rahul.
But there are issues that need to be addressed, they said. “Is it a crime to raise these issues?” Anand Sharma asked.
Azad, without naming anyone, said that some persons outside the CWC said that the letter was sent at the behest of the BJP and offered to resign “here and now” if allegations are proved.
The IE report said that it was Rahul Gandhi who set the tone for others as he questioned the timing of the letter. He said that the contents of the letter is a matter that should be discussed within the CWC and argued that it was sent when the party was battling to save its government in Rajasthan and his mother was in hospital. Media reported that Rahul at the meeting even alleged that the letter writers were colluding with the BJP, a charge categorically rejected by the 23 signatories. Rahul’s comment evoked a sharp response from Sibal who later withdrew his comment after a personal clarification given by the former president.
According to Azad, the letter was held back for 10 days, until six days after Sonia’s return from hospital. Azad said he repeatedly tried to get in touch with Sonia and that the letter was sent only after it was conveyed by her office that her health was fine.
The timing was merely to mark one year since Sonia was appointed interim Congress president on August 10 last year, he said.
“Some Congress persons wrote yesterday that we are doing this at the behest of the BJP….I said those people who are outside the CWC who are making these allegations should prove it and I will resign if they prove it,” Azad, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told The Indian Express.
“Our fight is not with Mrs Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. There are some issues, which we have raised. There is no fight inside the party. These are internal issues. Sometimes we discuss in the meeting, sometimes we write,” Azad said.
Defending Rahul, Azad said, “Let me make it clear that Rahul Gandhi at no point of time said, either outside or in the CWC meeting, that the letter was written at the instance, or at the behest, or in collusion with the BJP.”
Leaders like Manmohan Singh, AK Antony were among the first persons to urge Sonia to continue as the Congress president. Antony said if she did not continue, Rahul Gandhi should take over as party president. Another leader Ambika Soni demanded action against the signatories of the letter.
The 23 leaders have demanded a full-time, visible president and overhauling of the organisational structure including elections to the CWC and reconstitution of the Parliamentary board.
Azad and Sharma responded saying “you may discuss with us and disagree with us” on the issues raised “but don’t malign us”. They said only a united and re-energised Congress can confront the BJP/RSS.
Sharma said they have been lifelong Congressmen and that there are very few in the party who can match their credentials. He said that if raising bonafide issues like collective decision-making and others within the party is indiscipline or an act of treason, “they are prepared to face action”.
“Take action now,” he is learnt to have said and asked what was wrong in seeking introspection for the party’s slide.