Jammu: A group of senior Congress leader, referred to as G-23, gathered in Jammu on Saturday as a show of strength amid rising dissent in the party. The dissenters are the signatories to a letter to written to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, questioning the party's functioning, last year.
Speaking at the rally, dubbed 'Shanti Sammelan', Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha until two weeks ago, said, "In the last 5-6 yrs, all these friends did not speak any less than me in the Parliament over J&K, its unemployment, stripping off of statehood, finishing off industries and education, implementation of GST."
"Be it Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh, we respect all religions, people and castes. We equally respect everyone, that is our strength and we will continue with this," he said.
The gathering of the leaders, all of whom belong to North India, comes days after Rahul Gandhi's remarks comparing north and south. The speech made by Rahul Gandhi in his Lok Sabha constituency in Wayanad, had upset senior Congress leaders from north India .
Actor-turned politician Raj Babbar, who was Congress's UP unit chief during the last assembly election, saud 'G23' wants Congress to be strong.
"People say 'G23', I say Gandhi 23. With the belief, resolve & thinking of Mahatma Gandhi, this nation's law and Constitution was formed. Congress is standing strongly to take these forward," he said.
Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal heaped praises on Azad who is seen as the leader of the group.
"What is the real role of Ghulam Nabi Azad sahab? A person who flies an aircraft is an experienced person. An engineer accompanies him to detect & repair any malfunctioning in the engine. Ghulam Nabi ji is experienced as well as engineer," Sibal said.
"He is one such leader who knows ground reality of Congress in every district of every state. We were saddened when we realised that he is being freed from Parliament. We didn't him to go from Parliament...I can't understand why is Congress not using his experience," he added.
Anand Sharma was even more critical of the Congress leadership and vowed that the group will strengthen the party.
"There has never come such an occasion after 1950 when there is no representative of Jammu & Kashmir in the Rajya Sabha. This will be corrected," Sharma said.
"Congress has weakened in the last decade. Our voice is for the betterment of the party. It should be strengthened everywhere once again. New generation should connect (to party). We've seen good days of Congress. We don't want to see it weakening as we become older," he said.
"All of us have covered a very long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody among us has come through the window, all of us have walked through the door. We have come through the students movement, the youth movement. I have not given anyone the right to tell me if we are people of Congress or not, nobody has that right. We will build the party, we will strengthen it. We believe in the strength and unity of Congress," Sharma added.
Last year in August, G-23 leaders through a letter to interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi expressed their discontent and urged the top leadership of Congress to bring immediate reforms, including organisational elections from the grass-roots to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) level.
Earlier, attempts were made to cool down the situation when G-23 leaders were invited by Sonia Gandhi at her residence for meeting in December. According to sources, a few of the Congress leaders were kept out of the meeting on the request of G-23 leaders.
Later, it was said that more of these meetings will be held in near future and issues raised by G-23 leaders will be addressed by the party. However, no such meeting has been called till now and no efforts have been made to address their concerns.
Now, they are once again up in arms against the Gandhi family and their loyal close circle who are holding key positions in the party and the parliament.
A senior leader from G-23 said, "What's happening in Congress today is a clear violation of the agreement reached in Congress Working Committee in December last year, but there are no signs of any reforms or election."
(With ANI inputs)