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Sonia Gandhi tells aides she will resign after Congress letter row

New Delhi: Congress’s interim chief Sonia Gandhi has told her aides that she would step down from the party’s top post, sources said, after a letter signed by more than 20 leaders seeking “full-time, visible” leadership, became public. The letter — which called for a range of reforms, including picking of leaders at every level through election — is also expected to be discussed at a key internal meeting tomorrow. Top sources said Mrs Gandhi can also stay on till the party finds a suitable candidate. A section of top leaders, like Amarinder and Bhupesh Baghel, have said she must continue as the party chief.

Rahul Gandhi has said that he is determined to not return as the Congress president and will continue to work for the party and fight the BJP-led RSS, sources close to him said as Gandhi family loyalists took on the leaders who signed the letter. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is also clear she will remain as a general secretary and not take on any bigger leadership role in the party, sources said.

The letter, dated October 7 and signed by senior leaders like Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Prithviraj Chavan, Vivek Tankha and Anand Sharma, sought sweeping changes in the organisation. Pointing to the decisive support among the youth for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it said the party is in decline as the country faces “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence”.

While praising the leadership provided by the Gandhis over the years, the five-page letter called for a “full-time, “effective leadership” that will be “visible” and “active” in the field, sources said. “We have not criticised Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi, but we want a complete overhaul of the Congress party in its management and style,” said a leader who signed the letter.

The letter suggested the formation of a “collective leadership” and stressed that the Gandhis can be an integral part of it. The other reforms suggested includes decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units and organisational elections at every level, sources said.

After the letter became public, sources close to Mrs Gandhi said she talked of stepping down. The 73-year-old was roped into taking charge of the party last year as Rahul Gandhi quit the top post after the crushing defeat in the general elections. Mrs Gandhi had taken a backseat over the last few years in view of her health situation.

“Sonia Gandhi should continue as long as she wants; Rahul Gandhi should take over after her as he is fully competent,” Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said this evening. His Chhattisgarh counterpart Bupesh Baghel tweeted: “Honorable Sonia ji and Respected Rahul ji are the ray of hope for us in every challenge. We are all with you”.

Over the last weeks, there has been a push from various senior leaders of the party including Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor, for reforms.

This morning, Mr Tharoor tweeted a quote by Jawaharlal Nehru that read, “Without passion and urge, there is a gradual oozing out of hope and vitality, a settling down on lower levels of existence, a slow merging into non-existence. We have become prisoners of the past and some part of its immobility sticks to us”.

Mrs Gandhi, 73, however, has made it clear that she does not want to continue in view of her health. Amid a strong chorus to bring back Rahul Gandhi, a group of leaders have argued that he and his team lack political experience. Some leaders also indicated that they feel that Mr Gandhi is remote controlling the party, making all decisions without being accountable.

The working committee meeting last month saw arguments and sharp criticism by younger leaders who were seen to blame the party’s last government for its massive downfall since. The younger leaders reportedly said those who were part of the last UPA government should take the blame for the Congress’s rapid decline.

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