Under pressure for leadership change, INC president Sonia Gandhi today met the apparent leader of the ‘rebellious’ G-23 Ghulam Nabi Azad, a day after the faction perhaps swelled in size, with Mani Shankar Iyar, Shashi Tharoor and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda attending their dinner meeting. Meanwhile, the G-23 had held a third round of discussions following the massive election drubbing of the party.
“The meeting with Sonia Gandhi was good. All members of the INC party decided unanimously that she should continue as the president, we just had some suggestions that were shared,” Azad said, not making much of the talk of disillusionment within the party.
“The Congress Working Committee (CWC) was asked for suggestions on the reasons for defeat in five states. The discussion was held to fight unitedly in the forthcoming assembly elections… There was no question on leadership,” Azad said.
Azad and other INC leaders whom Rahul Gandhi and his coterie see as dissidents have held a series of meetings since 16 March, disturbed the stance of the dynasty loyalists at the meeting of the party’s highest decision-making body, the CWC, on 13 March. The loyalists insist on reaffirming the leadership of the Nehru-Gandhis despite serial losses.
At the last CWC meet, party leaders had turned down Sonia Gandhi’s renewed offer to step down from all posts, with her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra following suit.
Following the sycophantic decision of the CWC, the state Congress heads of provinces where the party’s electoral performance has been miserable lost their jobs, but no harm reached the dynasty.
The G-23 has been persistently seeking a restructuring of the organisation since it first wrote to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 following a string of electoral losses. The INC lost Punjab and has been virtually wiped out in Uttar Pradesh and the other states, now remaining in government in only Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh besides a few where it is a junior coalition partner like Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
Since the contentious letter, the faction has maintained they are not rebels, contrary to how the party high command sees them. Even after the Sonia Gandhi-Ghulam Nabi Azad meeting, the faction leader said their demand was not a leadership change in the party.
Sources in the party say that the mistrust developed between the larger and smaller factions because the G-23 letter was seen as a revolt against the coterie of Rahul Gandhi, comprising younger party leaders, who had allegedly been pushing their seniors to the margins for a long time until they gave vent to their frustration through the letter.
In a statement on 16 March, the G-23 had said the “only way forward for the INC was to adopt a model of inclusive and collective leadership and decision making at all levels.” They insisted they want to strengthen the INC and “not undermine it in any way.”
Sonia Gandhi’s meeting was seen as part of a wider effort by the family to reach out to the G-23.
On 12 March, Rahul Gandhi had reached out to Hooda. During the meeting, the former Haryana chief minister sought clarity over who is making the decisions in the party, sources said. Stressing on the need to make decisions collectively, Hooda told the dynast that the leaders would often come to know about party decisions from the newspapers.
Hooda said further that the G-23 leaders had not done any “anti-party activities” adding that the meeting of the faction was held after informing Sonia Gandhi.