"Sonia Gandhi gave her resignation to Sonia Gandhi, which was rejected by Sonia Gandhi because Sonia Gandhi said the resignation is not a solution to the problems created by Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi then requested Sonia Gandhi to continue to guide the Congress which Sonia Gandhi accepted and thanked Sonia Gandhi for reposing faith in Sonia Gandhi.”
So went a viral WhatsApp message when the Congress Working Committee (CWC) went into a long huddle on August 24, following what was seen as the biggest implosion so far.
But by the time the CWC wound up its deliberations, the WhatsApp message seemed to reflect the manner in which the issues raised by these leaders would be addressed.
What we saw was that the dissident leaders were chastised for pointing out the ills within the party rather than any serious attempt being made to look at the issues raised by them.
On August 7, 23 senior Congress leaders, backed by 300-odd others, wrote to Sonia Gandhi, calling for sweeping changes, from top to bottom. They demanded a full-time, visible president and overhauling of the organisational structure, including elections to the CWC and reconstitution of the parliamentary board, and an institutional leadership mechanism to guide the party.
The dissenting leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik who are CWC members, minced no words in declaring that the party had failed to conduct an honest introspection of its losses in 2014 and 2019 and that the uncertainty over leadership had demoralised workers.
It was obvious that these leaders, reflecting the mood of the rank and file, were upset that since the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls of 2019 and Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as party chief, the party has been in a state of drift.
Notwithstanding Rahul’s daily quota of barbs directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the popularity ratings of the party were showing no signs of an upward move.
The dissenting leaders were underlining the fact that Sonia, as the interim chief, has had neither the energy nor interest to look into taking steps for the revival of the Congress. But Rahul has continued to exercise influence on decisions by the party in an episodic manner. By calling for “collective leadership,” the leaders had made many suspects that the letter was to stop Rahul from returning as party chief.
Significantly, this letter did not make its way to the newspapers till 48 hours before the CWC huddle, triggering the expected reactions and an outrage among the loyalists, who saw a real big challenge to the Gandhi family.
Was the letter deliberately leaked by the establishment, to provoke a reaction against the dissenters?
We would not know but the suspicion was that this was done deliberately to avoid a proper discussion before the CWC.
What unfolded in the CWC was an old Congress-style of looking at the finger instead of confronting the awkward questions. Shortly after Sonia asked her Congress colleagues to start looking for her replacement, the first person to urge her to continue was former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He wanted her to stay on till a full session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) found a new chief.
After Manmohan Singh, senior leader AK Antony thought the contents of the letter were “cruel”. Instead of focusing on issues, he also spoke about "the sacrifices of Sonia Gandhi”. He urged Rahul to take over as Congress president.
In his speech at the CWC, Rahul, however, hit out at the timing of the letter, which was sent to Sonia when she was in Delhi’s Gangaram hospital and under medication.
If the media reports are to be believed, Rahul Gandhi charged that the letter seeking leadership changes was written in “cahoots” with the BJP. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a Congress general secretary, also came down heavily on the dissenters, taking on Rajya Sabha floor leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Ahmed Patel, who is opposed to Azad, criticised the dissenters, saying that they were occupying key posts in the party and should not have written such a letter. He also pressed for Rahul to become Congress president again.
Of course, Azad offered to resign as he defended the letter at the meeting. Later, he clarified that his resignation was not connected to anything Rahul said. Similarly, former Union minister Kapil Sibal, another signatory to the letter, withdrew an angry tweet he had posted in reaction to Rahul.
Apparently, Rahul called up Sibal (even the CWC meeting was in progress) to deny the quotes attributed to him in the media, attacking him.
The current stalemate in the Congress is largely because Rahul is not keen to take over as party chief again. He wants the old guards to leave their posts in the CWC and other bodies and allow the younger lot of leaders to take their place.
Priyanka is also clear that she will remain as a general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh and not take on any bigger leadership role in the party.
Sonia wants Rahul reinstated as party chief. There is no doubt about her keenness on this score. But the reality is that there is an open revolt against Rahul’s style of functioning. The buzz is that the Gandhi family members cannot let go of the party posts because they are on the AICC trusts, which manage various properties in the country.
So will Sonia decide to save the Congress by letting a non-Gandhi person to be party chief? Or she will not mind yet another split in the grand old party?
However, what is clear to the Sonia Gandhi family is that this is the first time since 1999 (when Sharad Pawar formed the Nationalist Congress Party, to oppose Sonia's foreign origin) there is an organised call for an alternative to Sonia-Rahul leadership. It is a wake-up call for her—if not for Rahul.