Sonia Gandhi on Saturday underlined her position as a “full-time and hands-on Congress President” as she hit back at critics within the party – such as the ‘G-23’ – who have been pushing, for over a year now, for an organisational overhaul and the election of “visible and effective leadership”.
Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – Mrs Gandhi, who has been interim President since Rahul Gandhi resigned two years ago – said “I have always appreciated frankness” and “there is no need to speak to me through the media” – a reference to letters released by ‘G-23’ members that led to spats between leaders in both camps.
“I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President…” Mrs Gandhi said, highlighting her leadership on national issues like the farmers protests, the provision of aid and relief during the pandemic and atrocities committed on marginalised groups and communities.
“You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister, as have Dr Manmohan Singh ji and Rahul (Gandhi) ji… I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly. We have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well.”
Mrs Gandhi also told the CWC she “always appreciated frankness” and that there is “no need to speak to me through the media”. She called a free and honest discussion on challenges facing the party.
“… but what should get communicated outside the four walls of this room is the collective decision of the CWC,” she said, in another warning to the ‘G-23’ against leaking decisions to the press.
The CWC is meeting today to finalise the schedule for organisational elections – a long-standing demand of the ‘G-23’ who, in earlier comments and letters, cited the party’s poor performance in previous Assembly elections and called for sweeping structural changes.
Sources have said the party hopes to finish this overhaul – which will include choosing a new President to replace Mrs Gandhi as interim chief – by September, but concurrently the party will also have to plan for Assembly elections in key states, including Punjab, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.
Those three states (elections are also due in others, like Goa and Manipur) are likely to be seen as key indicators of the Congress’ pull with voters ahead of national elections next year.
But concerns like the leadership crisis in Punjab – where veteran leader Amarinder Singh has been forced out and the party is struggling to keep Navjot Sidhu happy – will weigh on a final schedule.
On the subject of internal elections Mrs Gandhi admitted “the entire organisation wants a revival… but this requires unity and keeping the party’s interests paramount”.
“Above all, it requires self-control and discipline. I am acutely conscious of the fact I have been interim Congress President ever since the CWC asked me to return in this capacity in 2019,” she said, pointing out that internal elections had been scheduled for June this year before the pandemic struck.
“Today is the occasion for bringing clarity once and for all. A schedule for full-fledged organisational elections is before you… General Secretary (Organization) (KK) Venugopal ji will brief you on the entire process later,” Mrs Gandhi said.
“Our preparations began a while back. Undoubtedly, we face many challenges but, if we are united, disciplined, and focus on the party’s interests alone, I am confident we will do well,” she said.
57 members are meeting today, including Mrs Gandhi, Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi, and General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as well as senior figures like ex Union Minister P Chidambaram and the Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh (Bhupesh Baghel) and Punjab (Charanjit Channi).
Some members of the ‘G-23’ are also present.
This is the Congress’ first in-person meet since the pandemic and a series of lockdowns.