Many Indian National Congress (INC) politicians, including chief ministers of party-ruled states, came out in support of the Nehru-Gandhi family today as though protesting against the generation of 23 party functionaries who had called for a “full time and effective leadership” yesterday. Of course, hardly any sycophant of the dynasty who went yap-yap today was young, but the theme of their cries for a messiah remained ‘if not Sonia, then Rahul’. That is, one generation could hand the baton over to the next, but the family won’t abdicate the party.
Before the crucial Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting tomorrow, the arguments on both sides exposed a sharp vertical division among the family loyalists and those batting for a change — amid rumours that Sonia Gandhi would step down as party chief. Not unexpectedly, however, those reposing their faith in Sonia and Rahul Gandhi vastly outnumbered the ‘rebels’ soon.
From Chief Ministers Amarinder Singh, Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot to leader of the INC in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, party’s MPs Md Jawed, K Suresh, Ripun Bora, Rajeev Satav and Manickam Tagore, former union ministers Salman Khurshid and Ashwini Kumar, and state chiefs like DK Sivakumar, Balasaheb Thorat, Kumari Selja, KS Alagiri, Mullapally Ramachandran, Anil Chaudhary and Govind Singh Dotasra — each released letters and tweets asserting the centrality of the so-called Gandhis to the INC and the need for them to remain in control.
Leading his generation, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh opposed the bid to unseat the dynasty by a section of INC politicos. He called the move “ill-timed”, given the need for a strong opposition against the BJP-led NDA. In a statement in Chandigarh, Singh said the demand to overhaul the party at this critical juncture would be “detrimental to its interests and the interests of the nation”. “India is currently facing not just external dangers from across the border but also internal threats to its federal structure,” he said. Singh held that a unified Congress was the only way to protect India and its people.
Baghel and Gehlot said more or less the same thing. They asked for Sonia Gandhi’s continuation as party chief. They said the reins of the INC could be handed over to Rahul, though.
“Hon’ble CP Smt Sonia Gandhi ji should continue to lead the party at this crucial juncture… where the fight is to save the ethos of our Democracy. She has always taken challenges head-on. But if she has made up her mind -I believe Rahul Gandhi should come ahead and be the Congress President as (the) country faces the biggest challenge to save our Constitution — Democracy,” Gehlot said in a series of tweets.
Baghel referred to Sonia and Rahul as INC’s only “rays of hope” under whose leadership the party would sail through the “prevailing dangerous times”.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, in a letter to Sonia, referred to the “leadership crisis” as a “bogey”. “Those members of the party, who have benefitted and grown in the Congress due to your encouragement and the faith that you have placed in them” have raised this bogey according to him. Chowdhury added it was a “manufactured truth”, done “at the behest of some interested parties”, and aimed “to weaken the party”.
“We write to you today to tell you, unequivocally, that we have complete faith in your leadership. You took over the reins of the Congress at a difficult time and shepherded UPA to power when Congress was least expected to run the country. Though you have been subject to relentless vilification, you have maintained your dignity and laboured on for the party and for the country,” the letter, subsequently signed and shared by several party functionaries, said.
The politicians claimed that Sonia and Rahul never “hankered after power”. “Madam, you have given your life to the Congress party… We know that you could have been India’s Prime Minister, but you turned down that offer. It was because the Gandhi family has never been hungry for power. After Rahul ji resigned, it was after much persuasion that you agreed to take charge as party president once again. Even Rahul ji‘s decision to resign from his post showed that you and your family do not hanker after power,” the letter said.
While the Sunday cacophony of sycophantic rants in favour of the controls remaining with the Nehru-Gandhis rose to a crescendo, Delhi Congress passed a resolution supporting Sonia Gandhi’s continued presidentship too. Interestingly, however, the coterie of Rahul, the generation that is as young as he is, was more vocal yesterday than today. Among the 23 letter writers of 22 August were Jitin Prasada, Mukul Wasnik and Sandeep Dikshit.
Politicians who pushed for Rahul and Sonia Gandhi to helm the INC today include senior Himachal Pradesh leader GS Bali, former MP Sushmita Dev, Aslam Shaikh, Sanjay Nirupam and Pawan Khera, hardly betraying a generation gap in the affairs of the party.
The CWC meeting tomorrow, sources said, was still likely to be an “animated” debate, with all eyes on the group of 23 who had called for change. Sources said the family loyalists may press for the resolution of the leadership debate at a bigger AICC plenary. That, they said, was the “only and the right platform” for any details regarding internal party matters to be discussed.
Former Union minister Salman Khurshid suggested the INC should give “consensus” instead of an election a chance. However, he asserted that Rahul enjoyed the “full support and endorsement” of party workers and leaders. “I have said very clearly that the Gandhis are leaders of the Congress. Nobody can deny this, even the opposition cannot deny this,” he said.
Ashwini Kumar said that the “timing and motivation of the letter (written by the 23 leaders) are suspect. Although some Congressmen of long-standing are signatories to the letter, there are some who have harmed the party repeatedly even after receiving more than their just dues,” he said.