Her offer to resign comes amid growing chorus against Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning as well as calls for an organisation and leadership overhaul. ET has gathered at least three letters that have reached Sonia with signatories going well beyond the 23 now in public.
As ET had first reported on August 21 and then August 22, several senior leaders had in one way or the other conveyed their concerns on the party’s future to Sonia Gandhi as her one-year interim term had come to a close. These leaders now want a committed, permanent leadership overhaul, or at least an agreed roadmap. Gandhi could resign at the extraordinary CWC meeting on Monday, if not earlier, an All India Congress Committee (AICC) functionary said.
Rahul’s Loyalists may Seek his Return
She had once earlier resigned as party chief in 1999 when Sharad Pawar along with some others raised issue with her foreign origin. That too triggered an emotional appeal and she agreed to continue.
“Sonia ji is extremely upset. She felt this letter was very inappropriate as she had been virtually forced by the CWC to become interim president last year. It is most unfortunate that this is happening at a time when she is not keeping well,” said the functionary.
Meanwhile, party spokesman Randeep Surjewala clarified that Gandhi had not yet resigned.
Congress chief ministers Amarinder Singh, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel came out in support of the Gandhis, as did several Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs, Congress floor leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and former Union minister Ashwani Kumar.
People aware of the matter said that apart from Sonia Gandhi’s resignation offer, the CWC meet could see calls from Rahul’s loyalists for his return as party chief along with a scornful rejection of the change seekers’ demands.
The CWC is likely to witness one group – loosely labelled as ‘pro-change’ – demand a leadership change through a time-bound AICC session to set the ball rolling to elect a full-time president by way of organisational polls.
The other group — namely, the loyalists – are expected to assert “indispensability” of the Gandhis. They may push for a resolution to empower Sonia Gandhi to decide the future course of the party, including setting up a “collective or joint committee” to oversee matters till a full-time president is identified.
Already, names of some veterans such as Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Ahmed Patel and Sushil Kumar Shinde are being floated as possible committee members if none among the Gandhi family is willing to step forward to take charge.
Those wanting change had made a written request for a “face-to-face physical meeting” with appropriate social distancing norms. They remain wary of “admin-controlled” video conferencing where “inconvenient voices are muted” and “cheerleaders and shouting brigade members” are allowed to speak, said one of the persons, who did not wish to be identified.
Instead of a “regular” CWC meeting (of about 23 members), the AICC had called an “extended CWC” meeting of nearly 50 members, including more than 25 “invitees”, mostly appointed during Rahul’s tenure, clearly aimed at outnumbering the change seekers, said the person. Many of these invitees are expected to lead the demand for Rahul Gandhi’s return as president.
“Let it be very clear, we have not made any indecent or personal attacks on Sonia ji or the Gandhi family, all of whom we hold in high esteem. But, the issues we have raised about the need for a hands-on and credible Congress president with a complete overhaul of organisational and leadership teams are very vital issues. These can’t be pushed under the carpet by whipping up emotional fervor,” said a Congress leader, who has signed the August 7 letter.
When contacted by ET, M Veerappa Moily, member of the ‘pro-change’ group, said, “Whatever we have conveyed to Sonia Gandhi is strictly a party matter.”
“Sonia Gandhi very reluctantly came back as interim president. Both Rahul and Priyanka have been insisting on not leading the Congress whenever we appealed them to head the party. If the Gandhis insist on not leading, then someone else should be made the Congress president to ready the party to face the current challenges, said former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman PJ Kurien.
On the other hand, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot said Sonia Gandhi should continue to lead the Congress and that if she insists on quitting, then Rahul Gandhi must take over the party mantle.
Similarly, Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said, “The move by these Congress leaders (pro changers) to demand a rehaul of the party at this critical juncture would be detrimental to its interests, and the interests of the nation… What the Congress needs is a leadership that is acceptable not just to a few but to the entire party, through its rank and file, and the nation at large.”
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel also backed the first family of the Congress. “The troubled times our country is going through, only your guidance will get rid of those troubles,” he said in an open letter.