The dinner hosted by the rebel group from the Indian National Congress (INC) yesterday was attended by some of the letter-writers, including MP Shashi Tharoor, while one-time Gandhi family loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar joined in as did Punjab MP Preneet Kaur, wife of ousted ex-Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, former Haryana speaker Kuldeep Sharma, Gujarat leader Shankarsinh Vaghela and Punjab veteran Rajinder Kaur Bhattal — in all five former chief ministers. Disconcerted by the “demoralising” electoral rout of their party and continuing defections from the INC, dissident bloc G-23 said on 16 March that “collective and inclusive decision-making” was the only solution to the crisis gripping the party.
What is interesting, last week Aiyar, Manish Tewari and Sanjay Jha, all marginalised leaders of the INC, shared the stage of St Xavier’s College in Kolkata for a debate on civilisation against patriotic thought leaders.
Crucially, the head of G-23, Ghulam Nabi Azad, is likely to meet the INC chief Sonia Gandhi soon, even as early as on 17 March, to discuss the issues raised by the letter-writers. It is learnt that Sonia reached out to Azad last morning. The G-23 leaders held a dinner meeting at the residence of Azad.
However, despite the outreach, the dissidents’ dinner discussions went beyond usual gripes to express serious concern over the very sustainability of the INC, with many feeling that the party may be heading for a UP-like marginalisation in other states unless drastic correctives were taken immediately. The attendees also slammed the recent appointments to carry out the post-debacle reorganisation, arguing that the ‘problems” were being asked to find “solutions”. The solutions to the crisis, proposed in the CWC meeting on 13 March, were termed as inadequate and cosmetic.
G-23 is likely to demand a change of a key office-bearer in the AICC who is close to Rahul Gandhi but has been in the dissident’s crosshairs. The dissidents, who have stepped up their activities after the decimation of their party in five state polls, issued a statement that stressed the need to strike partnership with like-minded parties to take on BJP.
It said, “We believe the only way forward is for the Congress to adopt the model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels. In order to oppose BJP, it is necessary to strengthen the Congress. We demand the Congress initiate dialogue with other likeminded forces to create a platform to pave the way for a credible alternative for 2024. The next steps will be announced soon.” The meeting came in the backdrop of loyalists’ attacks on G-23 leaders.
A few mediators, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, recently reached out to the dissidents to urge reconciliation. If Azad meets Sonia, the acceptable compromise will be known. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be other players in the final outcome.
Interestingly, the venue for the dinner was moved from Kapil Sibal’s residence to that of Azad, as it was felt that his recent demand that the Gandhi family should leave the leadership of the INC was viewed as provocative which may make reconciliation difficult.