A day full of twists, turns and returns turned into much ado about nothing as the Congress ended back where it had started from — with Sonia Gandhi as the interim president of the party.
While the marathon seven-hour-long Congress Working Committee meeting on Monday ended with a deadlock, it exposed several foundational cracks in the party — both operational as well as interpersonal.
Though a large section of the leaders backed Gandhi and asked her to lead the grand old party, there was a high-drama at the meeting held over video conferencing — tweets were posted and deleted, the insinuation of the BJP connection behind the letter was reportedly made and officially denied by the Congress.
With party leaders accusing each other of sabotage, distrust was high as minute-by-minute updates of what was supposed to be a closed-door meeting leaked out.
While most leaders backed Sonia’s continuation as party chief, there were some who proposed Rahul Gandhi’s return as the president.
In her opening remarks at the party’s highest decision-making body, Sonia Gandhi, who was made the party’s interim chief a year ago following the resignation of her son Rahul Gandhi from the post, offered to quit in the wake of a letter written by 20 leaders, who had demanded sweeping organisational reforms, a collective leadership and an “active, full-time and visible” president.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who spoke after Gandhi, urged her to continue, so did former Defence Minister AK Antony, with both the veterans criticising the letter by some party leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik, who are a part of the CWC, the party’s highest decision-making body.
Former president Rahul Gandhi launched scathing attack on dissenters, questioning their timing as well as the fact they went public with their grievances. He also rued the fact that the letter – seeking sweeping changes to the party organisation and elections to the CWC — was written when Sonia Gandhi was in the hospital and the party was battling a political crisis in Rajasthan.
He said Sonia Gandhi had accepted the charge as the party president only after the CWC last year urged her to take the responsibility.
“It is the CWC and not the media, where we voice our grievances and discuss issues,” a source quoted Rahul Gandhi as telling the CWC members. Sources also said that some felt Rahul insinuated that the letter would help the BJP.
Ghulam Nabi said tosection of the media was “wrongly attributing” that he told Rahul Gandhi in the CWC meeting to prove that the letter written by them was in collusion with BJP.
“Let me make it very clear that Shri Rahul Gandhi has neither in CWC nor outside said that this letter was written at the behest of BJP,” Azad later tweeted.
Later, Chitambram said, “Those who wrote the letter certainly are as fiercely opposed to the BJP as I am or Rahul Gandhi is. There is always discontent, in fact, it is some discontent which brings about change. Unless there is discontent, change won’t happen.”
As the CWC discussed the pivotal leadership issue, the faultlines were clear and appeared to deepen at some points as the day progressed.
The meeting was attended by over 50 leaders, including four Congress chief ministers.
Former defence minister AK Antony termed the letter “cruel”, while his colleague Ambika Soni described the missive as unfortunate and said the party had given Azad a lot. She also demanded action against the leaders writing the letter, saying the rule should be uniformly applied for all.
Sources said Azad offered to resign at the meeting amid questions being raised on the letter, its timing and its leakage to the media.
Sonia Gandhi also referred to Azad twice in her opening remarks, saying he had even sent a reminder to his letter, sources said. The Congress chief said she had given her reply to Venugopal expressing her desire to be relieved of the post and that the party should initiate the process to find her replacement.
After the meeting, Venugopal said Azad told him he was fully in support of the resolution.
Soon after the CWC meeting ended and the resolution made there was released to the media at a hurriedly called press conference, some signatories of the letter assembled at senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s house and discussed the outcome of the meeting. Sources said these leaders, which included Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari and Mukul Wasnikm discussed the CWC meeting outcome but none of them agreed to talk about their deliberations.