Fissures in the Congress were wide open on Saturday. Several dissenters (rebel leaders) came out in open under the stewardship of veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, challenging the party leadership in the first-ever public show of strength in Jammu. The Group of 23 senior leaders vented against the leadership for doing nothing despite their warning letter in August 2020. Their views came on a day, when former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, tipped to head the party soon, was campaigning in Tamil Nadu.
At an event titled ‘Shanti Sammelan’, senior Congress leader and former union minister Kapil Sibal (72) questioned the party leadership letting Azad retire from the Rajya Sabha, instead of using his experience when the party is "getting weak." He was a part of the Group of 23 (G-23) who had openly questioned Rahul Gandhi's style of functioning.
Spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi (62) lamented that some leaders had created a "tamasha" at a time when they should help campaign in the five states and Union Territories going to the polls. He, however, refused to comment on the rebels. The dissenters, who included Anand Sharma, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former union minister and MP Manish Tewari, Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha and former UP Congress President Raj Babbar, raised the internal issues of the Congress and shared their views on why the party became weak in the past decade.
Azad, who is known for his balancing act, was careful in not making any aggressive posture. “Be it Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh, we respect all religions, people, and castes. We equally respect all religions, people and castes," Azad said. He mentioned that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could lead the Congress.
Anand Sharma (68), a former union minister and currently deputy leader of Congress in the Rajya Sabha, mounted an indirect attack on Rahul Gandhi. "Congress has weakened in the last decade. Our voice is for the betterment of the party. New generation should connect (to the party). We've seen good days of Congress. We don't want to see it weakening as we become older," Sharma said. He did not spare Rahul either for his recent "North-South" remark. He said: "Congress never believes in dividing the country on region or religion. Rahul Gandhi made certain observations, perhaps out of his personal experience, but he shall have to clarify in what context he made such a serious observation."
Sibal too joined him, stressing that Rahul must explain in what context he had made the statement since it is the BJP which has been continuously dividing the country.