The CWC unanimously deferred the party president's election citing the COVID situation in the country.
The Congress on Monday deferred the election to the post of party president till the COVID-19 situation improves and decided to set up a group to assess losses in the recent assembly polls, with party chief Sonia Gandhi saying it has to put its house in order by facing reality and drawing lessons from the “serious setbacks”. The decisions were taken at an over three-hour-long meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, where some of the G-23 dissident leaders raised questions on the Congress’ alliances in Assam and West Bengal, sources said.
The CWC unanimously deferred the party president’s election citing the COVID situation in the country and hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his handling of the crisis, saying he must “atone for his mistakes” and serve the people instead of carrying on with his “personal agenda”.
Addressing party leaders at the virtual CWC meet, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said she intends to set up a small group to look at every aspect of the recent electoral reverses in Assam, West Bengal and Kerala, and come back with its findings.
“These will yield uncomfortable lessons, but if we do not face up to the reality, if we do not look the facts in the face, we will not draw the right lessons,” she noted.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh could not attend the meeting as they were recovering from coronavirus.
AICC general secretary K C Venugopal later said at a press conference that the group will be set up within the next 48 hours and will be asked to submit its report very soon.
“We have to take note of our serious setbacks. To say that we are deeply disappointed is to make an understatement,” Gandhi said. Asking party general secretaries and in-charges of states where it lost to spell out clearly the reasons for the party’s defeat, Gandhi said, “I expect them to brief us very frankly on our performance in their respective states. We want them to tell us why we performed well below expectation. These results tell us clearly that we need to put our house in order.”
The state in-charges gave brief presentations and said they needed more time to improve the party’s position in their states. The Congress failed to win a single seat in West Bengal, and could not wrest back power in Assam, Kerala and Puducherry. The debacle had led to speculation that the group of 23 leaders will now more actively push for organisational changes, especially since the party had earlier announced that the process of electing a new president will be concluded by June-end after they had virtually raised a banner of revolt last year.
The CWC considered the schedule for electing the AICC president prepared by the party’s central election authority chaired by Madhusudan Mistry that proposed June 23 for the exercise.
However, top Congress leaders at the meeting were of the view that holding the election right now would not be proper as the coronavirus situation in the country was very grim, the sources said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot proposed that there should be no election to the post of Congress chief due to the COVID-19 situation and senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad seconded him.
Azad, a prominent member of the G-23 leaders, said at the meeting that no one in the party was seeking an election right now and it should be postponed, the sources said.
However, he questioned the party’s alliance with ISF in West Bengal. Party leader Anand Sharma endorsed him saying there should be inner party consensus while forging alliances in states that can have a national fallout, the sources said.
Senior leader Digvijaya Singh also raised the issue of “polarisation” in Assam elections due to its alliance with AIUDF.
Sharma said the “virus of intolerance” should not enter the Congress and the party “should not mirror the BJP but rather it should show the mirror to them”, according to the sources.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the election of Congress chief has not been postponed indefinitely but for two to three months and would be held soon after the situation improves.
“In view of the nationwide emergent conditions prevailing on account of unprecedented Corona pandemic, the CWC was unanimous that all our energies should be channelised towards saving every life and helping every COVID affected person.
“CWC, therefore, unanimously resolved to defer the elections temporarily in the midst of these challenging times,” said a resolution passed at the meeting.
Sonia Gandhi, who took over as the interim Congress president in August 2019 after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the wake of the party’s Lok Sabha debacle in May 2019, would continue to lead the party.
Rahul Gandhi was elected to the top post in December 2017 and had taken over the reins from his mother who was the longest-serving party chief. The CWC, in another resolution, also questioned the government data on coronavirus cases and fatalities, and alleged non-reporting of deaths.
The solution lies in facing the challenge, not in concealing the truth, it said.
The CWC also expressed deep concern over the government’s coronavirus vaccination strategy, alleging the supply was grossly insufficient and the pricing policy opaque and discriminatory.
Noting that this is a time for showing an unwavering sense of national unity, purpose and resolve, the CWC said, “In order that it may become a reality, the prime minister must atone for his mistakes and commit to serving the people instead of carrying on with personal agenda, oblivious to the suffering all around.”
The CWC said the second Covid-19 wave is nothing short of a grave calamity and alleged that it is a direct consequence of the Modi government’s “indifference, insensitivity and incompetence”.
At a time when the nation’s resources should be devoted to ensuring expansion of vaccination drive and the supply of essential medicines and oxygen, the Modi government is indulging in a “criminal waste of money” by continuing with the “personal vanity” project of the Prime Minister in the national capital, the CWC said, referring to the Central Vista revamp exercise.
During the meeting, chief ministers of Congress-ruled states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh gave an account of the Covid situation in their states and steps being taken to contain the virus.