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Sonia, Rahul assure Congress seniors of ‘respect’ in party | India News


NEW DELHI: With the Gandhi family listening, Congress leaders said that an impression has been created that seniors were unwanted in the party and were not considered relevant, prompting Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to assure that this was not the case and their views and contributions were indeed valued by the party.
The complaint and the assurance came about at a five-hour discussion on Saturday attended by some of the G-23 group of dissenters at the invitation of Sonia Gandhi along with other leaders like former finance minister P Chidambaram, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot and party treasurer Pawan Bansal.
With seniors like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma (part of G-23) and former MP CM Kamal Nath touching upon the seniors versus juniors — read as leaders close to Rahul Gandhi — divide, Sonia Gandhi is understood to have pointed out that seniors were present at the meeting. Rahul Gandhi intervened to say he respects seniors and rebuffed as a wrong impression that older generation is not required, noting that many were his father’s associates.
According to sources, Rahul said he treated Azad, Sharma, former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda (all letter writers) foremost as his “father’s friends” who had worked to build Congress. He promised respect to the elders. The meeting was the first such interaction between the G-23 and Congress leadership after the August missive to Sonia that called for a full-time and available leadership and the CWC’s subsequent rejection of the letter. Saturday’s meeting came in the backdrop of Congress’s continued poor electoral performance, something the G-23 said was due to lack of introspection. The meeting was seen as an ice-breaker after considerable tensions had built up between the dissenters and the official group in the party.
In interesting observations, Rahul said RSS-BJP were so entrenched in governance that even when Kamal Nath was CM, the Sangh through their appointees in government, ran the show. He pointed out that Nath could never work as CM and take his decisions, and the government collapsed in 15 months. When Chidambaram said Congress will do well in the coming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Rahul shot back that the party should not delude itself and it will be DMK which will be fighting the polls, with Congress just a small partner.
At one point, veteran A K Antony interjected to say that Azad and Sharma, besides he and others, had become leaders at a young age and the older generation then also grumbled in the same manner. Azad and Sharma said they would like to work in the party and die as partymen. There was some more plainspeak, however, with former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan saying that the nomination culture in the party should end and elections held to the working committee. At the end of the meeting, Azad said if the party spokesperson on Friday had announced that all issues were resolved, what were the lengthy Saturday discussions all about.
With the Gandhi household, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in attendance and some of the young AICC appointees like general secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal and AICC spokesman Randeep Surjewala absent, seniors laid out issues of political challenge before Congress and how the party had regressed while BJP had become a tough enemy to contend with. Nath spoke about BJP’s “money, muscle and EVM power”.
The demand for organisational reforms — mentioned in the controversial G-23 letter — was also raised. Besides Chavan, Vivek Tankha, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor sought elections to the CWC. Chidambaram spoke about the need of resuming the practice of the parliamentary board to ensure clarity on issues. He also underlined the need for restructuring the party from booth level to make it more effective as did Rahul.
Interestingly, some leaders urged Rahul Gandhi to take over the reins of the party. Source said he remained quiet on the issue but added the meeting should not be reduced to this one point, as usually happens. Rahul, accommodating and also obliquely self-critical, expressed strong views about the functioning of the party as also the strength of BJP.
Rahul was also seen as clubbing MP and Rajasthan together when he told the leaders that Congress did not win the two states but BJP lost them. He singled out Chhattisgarh as the real victory.
His remarks came in response to comments of some participants that Congress won three states in 2018. Hooda said the party needed to recognise state leadership that is built over a long time. He slammed that some of the PCC chiefs appointed in recent months, like in Delhi, were not known to anyone and said responsibility should be given to mass leaders. The meeting ended with applause after Sonia Gandhi thanked the leaders.
Pawan Bansal, Harish Rawat and Chavan told reporters that the party will in future hold brainstorming sessions like Panchmarhi and Shimla. Rahul Gandhi appeared to address the issue of dissidence when he said there was “communication gap” from his side and that they would now on meet regularly. He said no one person can rebuild Congress and collective work was required to that end. Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka received the leaders on the lawns of 10, Janpath.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the party’s internal strategic communication was slow and the workers were often not clear about the stand to take on subjects. Tankha complained that Congress had not done anything on the 1971 war anniversary though it was a big example of the Congress government’s leadership. Ambika Soni, CM Ashok Gehlot, Bhakta Charan Das and Ajay Maken, among others, attended.

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