Six years after the party’s electoral rout pushed it into a continuing downward spiral, 23 senior leaders of the Indian National Congress(INC), including five former Chief Ministers, many INC Working Committee members, sitting MPs, and several former Union Ministers, have, in an unprecedented pushback, sent a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes, from top to bottom.
Acknowledging the rise of the BJP and admitting that the youth decisively voted for Narendra Modi, the letter points out that the erosion of the support base and losing the confidence of the youth are matters of serious concern. The letter, learnt to have been sent a fortnight ago, details a reforms agenda that is, in effect, a stinging indictment of the current leadership.
It calls for a “full time and effective leadership” which is both “visible” and “active” in the field; elections to the CWC; and the urgent establishment of an “institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively” guide the party’s revival.
The signatories to the letter include Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad; party MPs and former Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor; MP Vivek Tankha; AICC office bearers and CWC members including Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada and former Chief Ministers and Union Ministers including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Rajender Kaur Bhattal, M Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan, PJ Kurian, Ajay Singh, Renuka Chaudhary, and Milind Deora; former PCC chiefs Raj Babbar (UP), Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal); current Bihar campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma; former Delhi Speaker Yoganand Shastri and former MP Sandeep Dixit.
Arguing that the revival of the INC is “a national imperative” fundamental to the health of democracy, the letter, sources said, underlines how the party’s steady decline comes when the country faces its “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence.”
These are listed in the letter, sources said, as a mood of “fear” and insecurity; the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s “communal and divisive agenda,” economic recession, ballooning unemployment; hardships caused by the pandemic; challenges on the border, including the standoff with China and the drift in foreign policy.
Their letter calls for a sweeping range of reforms, decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, elections to the INC organisation at all levels, from the block to the CWC and the urgent constitution of a Central parliamentary board.
The leaders, it is learnt, have pointed out that the “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party had demoralised workers and weakened the party. Importantly, they are learnt to have said that the CWC is not “effectively guiding” the party anymore in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government.
While CWC meetings, they felt, are “episodic” and convened in reaction to political developments, the meetings of INC Parliamentary Party have been reduced to the customary address of CPP chairperson Sonia Gandhi and obituary references.
There are no discussions in CPP anymore, they are learnt to have argued. The CWC, they are learnt to have said, should be a deliberative body for setting the national agenda and for policy initiatives.
The leaders, it is learnt, said that even over a year after the Lok Sabha election defeat, the party has not undertaken any “honest introspection” to find out reasons for its continued “decline”.
The leaders are learnt to have given many suggestions – among them appointment of a full-time and effective leadership active in the field and visible and available at AICC and state headquarters, constitution of the Central Parliamentary Board for “collective thinking” and decision making on organisational matters, policies and programmes; elections at all levels in a transparent manner and elections to choose of CWC members.
They have argued that it was time to establish an “institutional leadership mechanism” to collectively guide the party’s revival. While calling for collective leadership, the letter interestingly said the Nehru-Gandhi family will always remain an “integral part” of it.
The letter, it is learnt, does not mention Rahul Gandhi but points out that the introduction of elections in Youth INC and NSUI – the youth and student wings of the party – has created “conflict and division”. Several leaders have complained that elections to the Youth INC and NSUI have resulted in their “capture” at the state level by those with money and political patronage.
The letter, sources said, appreciates the leadership provided by Sonia Gandhi and notes the praiseworthy efforts made by Rahul Gandhi as INC president and argues the Nehru-Gandhi family will always remain an integral part of the “collective leadership” of the party.
Sonia: Get together and find a new INC chief
Sonia Gandhi has responded to a letter written by a group of party leaders, who sought a complete overhaul of the organisation, saying that all of them should get together and find a new chief as she does not want to carry out the responsibilities any further, people familiar with the development said.
In her response, Gandhi has told them that she was not interested in leading the party once again when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on 10 August requested her to assume the reins of the organisation again, a senior functionary said on condition of anonymity.
Sonia Gandhi accepted the post of the interim chief after much persuasion only on one condition that the party will find her replacement soon.
The leaders made desperate pleas to her after Rahul Gandhi rejected their calls to withdraw his resignation that he had put in on 25 May in the wake of party’s rout in the national elections.
At that time too, Sonia Gandhi mentioned in her response that she had insisted that the new president should be someone from outside the Gandhi family, the functionary quoted from the letter.
For his part, Rahul Gandhi while resigning from the top post had told the CWC in its meeting on 25 May, that the party should elect a non-Gandhi as its new president.