Causing embarrassment to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi a day after Assembly elections were announced for four states and a Union Territory, party dissenters led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, dubbed the G23, said here on Saturday that the Congress has weakened during the past decade and they want it to be strengthened by re-connecting with the youth.
A function that was organised by the ‘Gandhi Global Family’ in Jammu to felicitate Mr Azad after his retirement from the Rajya Sabha virtually became a mini-conclave of the ‘G23’ that had recently sought election for the post of president of the party that they said was gradually losing touch with the common people. Top Congress leaders Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma rued that nothing has been done to connect the new generation with the Congress. “We’ve seen good days of Congress and we don’t want to see it weakening as we become older,” said Sharma.
In a virtual reprimand to Rahul Gandhi on his north vs south remark that has triggered a controversy, Azad said that the strength of the Congress is that it equally respects all religions, people and castes. Former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Manish Tewari, Akhilesh Prasad Singh and Vivek Tankha (all MPs) were also present in the meeting.
The dissidents have decided to launch a nationwide campaign of ‘Save the Idea of India’ under the Gandhi Global Family. The new campaign will be led by Azad who will organise rallies and public meetings. Azad became a rallying point of these leaders who made it clear they were unhappy with the party leadership letting him retire from the Rajya Sabha where he was the leader of the Opposition.
Azad was quick to clarify that he has retired from the Rajya Sabha and not from active politics. He asserted that he would continue his efforts to strengthen the party throughout the country including Jammu and Kashmir by whatever way possible.
Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said their voice is for the betterment of the party. Hitting out at critics, Mr Sharma said “I have not given the right to anyone to tell me if we are the people of the Congress or not. We will build and strengthen the party. We believe in the strength and unity of the Congress.
“All of us have covered a very long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody among us has come through the window; all of us have walked through the door. We have come through the students and youth movements. Sibal minced no words in saying: “The truth is that we see Congress getting weak. That is why we have gathered here. We had gathered together earlier too and we have to strengthen the party together”.
Batting for Azad, he described him as “one such leader who knows the ground reality of Congress in every district of each state. We were saddened when we realised that he is being freed from Parliament. I can’t understand why Congress is not using his experience”. Mr Sharma added that Mr Azad’s retirement from the Upper House meant that now there is no representative of J&K in Rajya Sabha.