Sonia Gandhi remains Congress chief; party calls ‘chintan shivir’ to discuss rout
All the three members of the Gandhi family are ready to step aside from leadership roles and make any sacrifice if the party so desires, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said in her opening remarks at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting here on Sunday but the party’s highest decision making body unanimously rejected it and reaffirmed its faith in Ms. Gandhi’s leadership.
However, after over a four-hour meeting on the party’s decimation in the recent Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, the CWC adopted a resolution that described the situation as “serious” and decided to hold a chintan shivir (brainstorming session) soon after the second leg of the Budget session of Parliament ends in April second week.
The Congress president will undertake immediate corrective measures to strengthen the organisation and another CWC meeting will be held ahead of the chintan shivir to crystallise the party strategy for all the coming elections in 2022, 2023 and the Lok Sabha polls of 2024.
Shortcomings in strategy’
“The recent Assembly election results of five States are a cause of serious concern for the Indian National Congress. The party accepts that due to shortcomings in our strategy we could not effectively expose the misrule of BJP governments in four States and overcome the anti-incumbency in Punjab in the short time after effecting a change of leadership,” party general secretary K.C. Venugopal said, reading out the statement to the media.
“The CWC unanimously reaffirms its faith in the leadership of Ms. Gandhi and requests the Congress President to lead from the front, address the organisational weaknesses, effect necessary and comprehensive organisational changes to take on the political challenges,” the statement added.
Asked about the Gandhi family’s offer to step aside, party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala did not deny but said internal deliberations of the party could not be discussed with the media.
Last Friday, the party’s decimation had prompted G-23 leaders — the group of leaders who had written to Ms. Gandhi in August 2020 to press for collective leadership and sweeping internal reforms — to meet at the residence of former Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Mr. Azad, party’s Deputy Leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, and senior leader Mukul Wasnik are also members of the CWC.
At the CWC meet, Mr. Azad reiterated his faith in the leadership of Ms. Gandhi but pointed out the scale of loss that the Congress has suffered since 2014, when the BJP came under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership.
The party has lost 39 out of 49 elections so far since then, Mr. Azad noted and reiterated their earlier suggestion of having a common platform of like-minded parties to take on the BJP.
Ms. Gandhi responded, saying that the Congress might attract allies only after it strengthened itself and mentioned that such previous attempts had not met with much success.
Mr. Azad also questioned the rationale of unseating Captain (retired) Amarinder Singh so close to the Punjab elections and if at all a change was needed, it should have done earlier; to which former party chief Rahul Gandhi replied that a majority of the MLAs wanted it.
Talking about electoral losses, Mr. Gandhi asserted that the Congress was capable of taking on the BJP in an ideological battle but it must offer a credible political alternative.
Senior leader Digvijaya Singh suggested Mr. Gandhi to restart the practice of meeting workers at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) office as he used to do when he was party chief.
Some leaders also raised the issue of office bearers meeting party workers and listening to their grievances.
While Mr. Wasnik too offered a detailed analysis of the party’s electoral decline and asserted that the party should fight elections on its core ideology, Mr. Sharma is said to have pointed out how the loss in Punjab and Uttarakhand will impact the coming elections in Himachal Pradesh later this year.
Without naming anyone, Mr. Sharma is said to have taken on colleagues who had earlier questioned G-23 calls for reforms and said the Congress culture had always been one of dialogue.
All the general secretaries of the States where elections were held discussed their reports on the party’s performance. Sharing her assessment of the party’s performance in Uttar Pradesh, AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the Congress was at the forefront of the contest but could not garner votes as it became a bi-polar elections between the BJP and the Samajwadi party.
She said if the party permitted, she would like to carry on with the party’s responsibility in Uttar Pradesh.Punjab in-charge Harsh Chaudhary is said to have sharply criticised State Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose public utterances added to the party’s problems.
Mr. Sharma too questioned the recent practice of ‘outsiders’ being made Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs and why should it not be given to someone who rose up the ranks.
The party leaders also admitted to not being able to adequately assess the mood on the ground in Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Ahead of the meeting, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot came out in open support of the Gandhis and urged Mr. Gandhi to once again accept the responsibility of being the party president.
“It is significant to understand that the Gandhi family is important for the Congress’ unity,” he told reporters before the meeting.
While Youth Congress workers shouted slogans in favour of Mr. Gandhi outside the party headquarters, in Ranchi, the Jharkhand unit of the party passed an unanimous resolution backing the leadership of the Gandhis.
Strategy group meet
Earlier in the day, Ms. Gandhi chaired a meeting of the parliamentary strategy group to identify issues that the party, jointly with other like-minded parties, will raise during the second part of the Budget session of Parliament that gets under way on Monday.
“We will work in coordination with other like-minded parties to raise issues of public importance during the session. Among various issues to be raised during the session include evacuation and safety of Indian students in Ukraine, inflation, unemployment, labour matters, minimum support price for farmers as promised by the government,” Rajya Sabha Leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters after the meeting.