The dynasty that heads the Indian National Congress, a remnant of Congress (Indira), seems to be patching up with the group of dissenting leaders dismissively referred to as G-23 or the “group of 23” except for one of the ‘rebels’, Rajya Sabha MP and former Union Minister Kapil Sibal. Recently, INC president Sonia Gandhi personally met several leaders from the group of 23 signatories who had written a letter expressing concern over the unsure leadership of the party in 2020.
Sonia Gandhi approached Ghulam Nabi Azad on 18 March and reached out to Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, and Vivek Tankha on 22 March. She asked Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan for a meeting while her son Rahul Gandhi had already met Hooda last week, barely a day after some of the G-23 leaders with a few new additions issued a statement calling for “inclusive decision making”. After meeting Rahul Gandhi, Hooda met Azad.
One of the rebels said on the condition of anonymity, “We want the same thing – a stronger Congress that can deal with the present political challenges in this country. The media calls us rebels. We are not rebels. We just want to improve the way the party is functioning.”
A thaw appears in the horizon as the leading family has softened its attitude towards several G-23 leaders, absorbing them in the rank and file of the organisation. The drubbing in the recently concluded assembly elections seems to have been the dynasty’s wake-up call, observers say. “Rival parties want the Congress to appear as a house divided. This harmed us in states like Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Goa and it can harm us nationally too. That’s why the leadership’s efforts to reach out to these leaders is important,” said an MP from the south.
But the leadership is clearly singling out Sibal as the black sheep although lesser leaders have been given the task of badmouthing him. Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, MPs Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Manickam Tagore, among others, have attacked the lawyer-cum-politician in the past few days.
The ‘odd man out’ was determined by the fact that Sibal alone had explicitly called for the Gandhis to quit the Congress’ leadership. “Gandhis should step aside, give another leader a chance,” he had said about a week ago, which triggered angry responses from INC politicians. Even the party’s workers had launched an assault on Sibal’s house in September 2021 after he questioned the party leadership.
The party believes Sibal is working towards an INC coalition with other opposition parties that would keep the dynasty out.
In August 2021, Sibal had hosted a big dinner attended by several leaders from the Congress, allied parties like the DMK and RJD and also non-Congress opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress, AAP, SAD, BJD, YSRCP, TRS and TDP among others. By means of the dinner, Sibal did try to give an indication of his connections across party lines within the opposition.
Sources in the party said — no proof required — that they had information suggesting Sibal had been going around telling other opposition leaders that the Nehru-Gandhis were a stumbling block towards their unity and the INC should consider a leadership change if it has to lead a united opposition fight against the BJP.
They believe Sibal can pull it off if not challenged. But will the dynasty be able to win back all the other G-23 leaders and will this involve accommodating some of them in the upcoming Rajya Sabha vacancies? Once they are mollified, will they cooperate in the decision-making process of the party?
Finally, will the INC’s internal elections that scheduled to take place later this year? Will Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi Vadra contest? Or will they support another loyalist? Will Sibal or any of the other dissenting leaders force a contest by throwing their hat in the ring? Most importantly, it remains to be seen whether today’s INC leaders have it in them to put in place a new, successful breakaway party that their political seniors did in the past since the formation of the Jana Sangh by their former member Syama Prasad Mookerjee up to the Trinamool Congress formed by Mamata Banerjee.