New Delhi: Sonia Gandhi on Monday said she “wants to be relieved” of the post of interim Congress president and urged her colleagues to start looking for a replacement as the party’s top decision-making body met a day after an explosive letter written by 23 top leaders calling for sweeping reforms and “a full-time, visible leadership” emerged. Sonia Gandhi’s announcement unpacked an effusive show of support for the Gandhis’ leadership and sharp criticism of the letter-writers, mainly by Rahul Gandhi. The letter, demanding “collective decision-making”, called into question the leadership of the Gandhis, who have led the Congress for much of its 134-year history. One of the signatories to the letter, Ghulam Nabi Azad, offered to resign as he faced criticism for several Congress leaders. With Sonia Gandhi reportedly firm on quitting the job, an All India Congress Committee meeting to launch the search for a new chief emerged as a popular suggestion.
Sonia Gandhi, at the start of the online Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, asked the party to begin deliberations to set in place a process to find her replacement as Congress president, a post she took on an interim basis after her son Rahul Gandhi quit over the party’ national election defeat.
Rahul Gandhi, who was believed to be at his mother’s home during the meeting, hit out at the signatories to the letter and questioned such a move “when the Congress was at its weakest, when it was battling crises in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and when the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) was unwell”.
But reports that Rahul Gandhi had also accused the letter-writers of colluding with the BJP led to an unprecedented backlash. Leaders like Kapil Sibal – who is among the signatories to the letter, shot off a tweet hitting out at Rahul Gandhi, which is rare for the Congress.
Kapil Sibal soon deleted the tweet and posted: “Was informed by Rahul Gandhi personally that he never said what was attributed to him. I therefore withdraw my tweet.” The Congress also tweeted that Rahul Gandhi “hadn’t said a word of this nature nor alluded to it” and blamed the reports on “false media discourse or misinformation”.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was also among the “dissidents” who wrote the August 7 letter, found himself a lone target at the CWC meet with leaders like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticizing the letter and its leak. He also offered to quit if it was established that he had collaborated with the BJP.
Mr Azad clarified later that his offer to quit was not in response to anything Rahul Gandhi said and that Mr Gandhi had in fact, never made any such allegation. “My offer to resign was in a totally different context with respect to remarks by others who have been making allegations without reading the letter. We have no issue at all with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. What we have raised is an internal matter of the party,” said the Rajya Sabha member.
Mr Azad attributed those remarks to other party leaders. Kumari Selja, the Chief of the Haryana Congress, has also made the allegation. “Those asking for a leadership change in the Congress are people with close ties with the BJP,” she reportedly said, a remark that was seen to target her state rival Bhupinder Singh Hooda, another signatory to the letter.
“Uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party has demoralised workers and weakened the party, said the letter signed by senior leaders like. The letter stressed that the Gandhis will always be an integral part of a “collective leadership” – a significant statement against the Congress’s First Family.
Sources say the signatories to the letter had tried to meet with Sonia Gandhi to defuse tension before the meeting, but the 73-year-old, who has been unwell for some time, has not met with anyone but her family.
Among the early speakers was Manmohan Singh, who said Sonia Gandhi should continue at least till a full meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), where the process of looking for a new president could be started. Former union minister P Chidambaram also echoed the suggestion for an AICC session.