“I am committed to the Congress ideology that runs in my blood; let there be no doubts about this. However, given the continuing exclusion and insults, as a self-respecting person, I was left with no choice”. With these words, veteran Congress leader Anand Sharma resigned from the apex steering committee set up to lead the planning for the Himachal Pradesh state elections slated for later this year.
Sharma’s resignation comes days after Ghulam Nabi Azad, another member of the G-23 — the group of dissidents within the Grand Old Party — resigned from a similar committee set up for Jammu and Kashmir. Azad’s exit was followed by a series of resignation from the same committee.
While the Congress top brass in Delhi was dismissive and preferred to ignore the resignation of both Azad and Sharma, the developments expose lack of faith in the Gandhis and are also an indication that all is clearly not well within the party that has been struggling to reverse its electoral losses and keep its house in order.
Interestingly, Sharma’s resignation comes amid the Congress kick-starting the process to elect its next president. Speaking to News18.com, the leader said: “Check the records. Was I ever invited for any meeting? Was I even consulted before being made the chairman? They did not consult Mr Azad as well. This is a repeated insult for many of us members of the G-23.”
The G-23 had written a letter to Sonia Gandhi last year, demanding organisational elections and criticising the fact that election strategy was still formulated by a handful in the party which had led to the Congress’ repeated defeats in state elections. While Sonia Gandhi met some G-23 members and promised them that an organisational change would take place soon, the dissidents are still waiting for it to fructify. Add to it the fact that Rahul Gandhi is enjoying all powers minus the responsibility, the grievances of many senior Congress leaders are on the rise as they feel that a new coterie is emerging.
The problem is that Rahul Gandhi is reluctant to be the Congress president and the party faces the tough decision of picking a non-Gandhi to lead it since both Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are equally reluctant to hold the fort.
While critics of Anand Sharma argue that he is not a grassroots leader and hence can’t do much harm in Himachal polls, the fact is that he has been one of the staunchest loyalists of the Gandhis, especially Sonia Gandhi. After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, when Sitaram Kesri tightened his grip over the party and many criticised and abandoned Sonia Gandhi, Sharma was among the few who stood by her and goaded her to join active politics. Azad, too, has been one of the oldest Congress leaders who rose to power since the times of Indira Gandhi.
It would also be facile to assume that Sharma’s resignation hasn’t really hit the top brass. In Punjab, when Capt Amarinder Singh split to form his own party, he may have lost the polls but he ended up damaging the Congress in the state and building the perception that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra cannot keep the party together. The worry is similar in Sharma’s case and attempts are being made to placate him at the state level. However, any further statements by Sharma, Azad or any G-23 member will only make the Gandhis look weaker.
Sources say Sharma is planning a tell-all press conference in Shimla soon, with more G-23 members planning to come out in the open about the party’s failings.
With such loyalists rebelling, it is the Gandhis who lose the perception battle. It also exposes the fact that not many seniors would be comfortable working with Rahul Gandhi. Sharma and some leaders like Kapil Sibal have maintained that if Rahul Gandhi is reluctant to become president, the party should look at other options.
With the countdown to party and state polls having begun and regional parties breathing down the neck of the Congress, the Gandhis are finding themselves in a tight spot with their invincibility and grip over the party loosening.