Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday met a group of leaders, including some who had written to her seeking complete organisational overhaul, where they discussed ways to strengthen the party at all levels and it was decided to hold conclaves similar to Panchmarhi and Shimla to chalk out the way ahead.
The five-hour meeting, which also included some of Sonia Gandhi’s close associates, was significant as it was the first effort by the Congress leadership for a rapprochement with the ‘letter-writers’ who had raised questions over the leadership.
Asserting that there was no dissidence in the Congress, party leader Pawan Bansal, a Sonia Gandhi loyalist, said the meeting was held on a positive note and in a congenial atmosphere with all the leaders expressing their views and suggesting ways to make the party stronger.
This was also the first time that Gandhi met Congress leaders in person since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were among those who attended the meeting.
“Discussions were held on a positive note at the meeting where leaders talked about how to strengthen the party at all levels. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said we all are one big family and we all should work to strengthen the party. Rahul Gandhi also talked about strengthening the party,” Bansal told reporters after the meeting.
“There is no dissidence in the Congress party and all are committed to working unitedly to energise the party and fight all those forces which are trying to put upend the idea of India, as enshrined in the Constitution and as articulated by the founding fathers of India’s Constitution,” Bansal said.
Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said this was the first meeting to discuss ways to strengthen the party and more such meetings would be held.
He said ‘Chintan Shivir’ like those held in the past in Shimla and Panchmarhi would be organised.
The Congress had organised both the Pachmarhi and Shimla ‘Chintan Shivirs’ when the party was in the opposition. While the Pachmarhi Shivir was organised in September 1998 when Gandhi had just taken over the party’s reins, the Shimla Shivir was held later in July 2003.
Another Congress leader Harish Rawat said that every leader spoke about unitedly working towards strengthening the party.
Those attending the meeting from among the letter-writers were Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, deputy leader of the party in the upper House Anand Sharma, former chief ministers Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, and MPs Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha and Shashi Tharoor.
Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath and senior leader P Chidambaram were also part of the meeting, the sources said.
Among Sonia loyalists were A K Antony, Ambika Soni, Ashok Gehlot, Harish Rawat, Ajay Maken, Pawan Bansal and Bhakt Charan Das.
Sources said a number of issues were discussed at the meeting, where the ‘letter-writers’ expressed the view that they were neither “dissenters” nor “rebels”. They said they had only raised issues in the party’s interest to strengthen it, the sources said.
The Congress has already decided to hold elections for the post of Congress president and that process is underway. This followed a stormy Congress Working Committee meeting in August after the letter’s contents became public.