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7 hours of fireworks at CWC

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Aug 25, 2020 12:30 PM IST

Four of the 23 signatories – Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, general secretary Mukul Wasnik, former Union ministers Anand Sharma and Jitin Prasada – found themselves at the receiving end of attacks by other members.

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting saw fireworks with almost all the members coming down heavily on the 23 dissenting leaders for writing a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi and leaking that to the media.

Congress leaders KC Venugopal (right) and Randeep Singh Surjewala addressing a press conference at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in New Delhi on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/ HT Photo)
Congress leaders KC Venugopal (right) and Randeep Singh Surjewala addressing a press conference at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters in New Delhi on Monday. (Arvind Yadav/ HT Photo)

Four of the 23 dissenters - Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma and Jitin Prasada - were isolated at the CWC meeting as members lashed out at them for challenging Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

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These four leaders along with 19 others, including Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, in their letter to Sonia Gandhi sought a complete overhaul of the organisation, demanded formation of a parliamentary board and maintained that the Gandhis will always be an integral part of a “collective leadership”.

A Congress functionary said the letter was triggered by apprehension among these leaders that the party high command might name a third person such as Mallikarjun Kharge or KC Venugopal as the interim chief till internal elections are held as both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are not keen to occupy the post. “They wanted to scuttle that move and ensure that a leader acceptable to all occupies the post,” he said.

The CWC meeting started with Venugopal reading out Sonia Gandhi’s letter addressed to him on August 20, asking him to initiate the process to elect a new president.

Addressing the meeting, Sonia Gandhi told Azad that he had sent her the letter on August 9 and then a reminder on August 17. “It was hurtful. You know me so well, Azad sahib. How could you think that I will take any decision on the leadership issue without consulting party leaders? You could always come and meet me. I retired long ago. I don’t want to hang on to this chair. So what’s the motive of this letter?” a CWC member quoted her as having said at the meeting.

For his part, Rahul Gandhi questioned the timing of the letter. It was written at a time when my mother was in hospital and you attacked her when she was at her weakest and also when the party was vulnerable, fighting the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” the CWC member quoted him as having said.

“Challenging her authority and talking about the collective leadership was an insult to her. I never wanted her to be the Congress president. She too didn’t want to become again,” Rahul Gandhi is said to have told the meeting.

Rahul Gandhi also asked Azad how the letter was leaked when it was written on the covering note that there is only one copy that was handed over to the Congress president and all other copies were destroyed.

Party treasurer Ahmed Patel criticised the dissenters. Naming Azad, Wasnik and Sharma, he said they are occupying key posts in the party and should not have written such a letter.

“I had advised you not to write any letter but you still went ahead. Do you want Sonia Gandhi to sit at home? Are you doing any favour to the Gandhis by saying they too will be part of the collective leadership? One may be angry over certain decisions in the party but that doesn’t mean you start writing letters. I too am out for the last three years but that is ok,” Patel is said to have told them.

“You are talking about the collective leadership. When you met Baba Ramdev at the airport, did you go after consulting the then Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi)?” Patel said.

Sibal along with Pranab Mukherjee had met Ramdev at the Delhi airport in June 2011 to dissuade him from launching a fast.

Patel also told Sharma that he should have realised what he is writing when he drafted the letter.

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said urged Sonia Gandhi to continue on the post till Rahul Gandhi becomes the president.

Former defence minister AK Antony said if Sonia Gandhi is unwilling then Rahul Gandhi should take over. “Weakening the high command is weakening the party. How can my colleagues write such a letter? This is cruel and unfortunate.”

Ambika Soni demanded action against dissenting leaders. She said when the party can take action against block and district leaders for indiscipline why can’t it do the same against these leaders who first wrote the letter and then leaked it. She also told Azad that he became the J&K chief minister only because of Sonia Gandhi. Referring to Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with Rajya sabha members, she said Rajeev Satav never questioned Manmohan Singh. “Why did you all bring it up on twitter? What does it mean?”

Wasnik insisted that he is a party loyalist and would never go against the Gandhi family. “I owe a lot to Sonia Gandhi. How can anyone say that we did it when she was in hospital? I wish her a long life. Nobody can question my loyalty to the Congress party. I am ready to face any action.”

Sharma said the letter is not against the Gandhis but only seeks to point out to certain issues in the Congress. “I joined the Congress at the age of 18 years and will die as a Congressman.”

When Azad was explaining the reason behind the letter, Adhir Ranjan Choudhary intervened and said “You are making lame excuses and defending the indefensible”. At this point, Sonia Gandhi asked Adhir to switch off his mike and not to speak out of turn.

Jitin Prasada too said he was ready to accept the CWC decision in letter and spirit and whatever action it takes against him. “We had flagged certain organisational issues and in no way it was against the Gandhis.”

RPN Singh praised Sonia Gandhi for being available 24x7 to guide the party during Jharkhand elections. “We won the elections. Secondly, I want to tell all CWC members that we should all learn politics from Sonia Gandhi.” He also told the members that it is surprising that they don’t put forth their viewpoint in the CWC which is the appropriate party forum for raising such issues.

Ajay Maken said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and the BJP are afraid of Rahul Gandhi only and asked him to assume the reins of the party immediately.

Rajeev Satav said he is pained that 3 of the 23 dissenters were former Youth Congress presidents and know very well how the organisation functions. Sonia Gandhi has never taken any decision without consulting the leaders.

Tariq Hameed Karra demanded that Sonia Gandhi should be made lifetime president of the party. He described the move by senior leaders as less of an internal desire and more of an external design to create an alternative leadership in the Congress and the move to declare her as lifetime president would defeat that external design.

A Chella Kumar said when Article 370 was abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir, three former chief ministers were put under detention. “People keep asking us why the former Congress chief minister (Ghulam Nabi Azad) had not been detained and was roaming freely.” To this, Azad told him to check the Rajya Sabha records as he was the only opposition leader to have attacked Modi in the House.

Jitendra Singh said there are many ‘Jaichands or traitors’ in the Congress.

Some people reminded the dissenters that how many people they used to meet when they were ministers.

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