The Indian National Congress (INC) party needs “leadership 24×7” at a time when it is at a “historic low”, senior leader Kapil Sibal said on 27 August in his first interview since he and 22 other leaders signed a controversial letter seeking sweeping reforms within the party.
The letter sent to interim party president Sonia Gandhi on 7 August called for a “visible”, “effective” and “full-time” leader; elections at all levels in the party; and establishing an institutional leadership model to collectively guide the party, among other steps.
“If people have access to the letter, they will know it is not an attempt to belittle anyone, including the Gandhi family. In fact, we have appreciated the services rendered by the leadership thus far,” Sibal said in an interview.
“Our intent is to revive the party. We want to be partners in its revival. That is our commitment to the party constitution and the INC legacy, and the absolute conviction that the INC needs others to rally around, to oppose a government which has destroyed the very foundations on which the Indian republic is built.
“The INC is at a historic low and the election results of 2014 and 2019 reflect that,” Sibal said.
Sibal & Co’s letter raises a storm
The letter led to a stormy and marathon session of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision-making body in the party. In the seven-hour meeting on 24 August, there was heavy criticism of those who signed the letter, and the focus of the discussion was largely on its timing, and its leak, rather than on its substance.
Four of the 23 leaders — Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma and Jitin Prasada — are members of the CWC. Other senior leaders who have signed the letter include Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and Prithviraj Chavan.
“I wish the substance had been circulated, then all those present would’ve realised that it is about strengthening and reviving the INC. One of those present even used the expression ‘traitor’. I wish those present had reprimanded him. There was not one uncivilised comment made in the communication. I am appalled that expressions like these are allowed within the highest forum,” Sibal said.
Sibal said the party constitution calls for certain structures in the party that need to be re-established. “I have some knowledge of the party and its constitution and the constitution provides for several structures which need to be put in place, which are not in place. The intent and language of the letter dealt with the structures not being in place,” he said.
The senior advocate expressed disappointment that Jitin Prasada was targeted on 26 August by a INC district committee in Uttar Pradesh that wanted action taken against him for signing the letter.
“It is either an attack by sycophants or directed to demoralise those whose conscience has made them speak. It is a matter of grave concern that there are audios and videos which prove that Prasada was targeted at the behest of someone higher up in the hierarchy,” he said, without elaborating further.
Asked if he, too, fears being targeted, Sibal said: “We have no fears. We are Congressmen at heart and we will remain Congressmen without fear.”
Sibal — he had protested on 24 August after incorrect media reports said that Rahul Gandhi had suggested that the letter-writers were in collusion with the BJP, and then withdrawn his tweet when Rahul Gandhi told him the words attributed to him were wrong — said: “I and the BJP are North Pole and South Pole. We are wedded to the INC ideology and bitterly oppose the current dispensation.”
The party, which at the CWC asked Sonia Gandhi to continue as interim president, is expected to hold an All-India Congress Committee session in six months to elect a new chief.
In an interview, Azad stressed on electing, rather than appointing, the next INC president.
Asked what his position will be going forward, Sibal said: “We are soldiers of the party and some of us are seasoned enough to know what needs to be done. We hope that we will be heard.”