Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on Monday requested the party to relieve her from her current role and asked the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members “to begin deliberations toward the process of transition to relieve her from the duty of party president”.
“A year has lapsed now. In the interest of the party, I ask CWC to begin deliberations to put in a place of process of transition to relieve me from my duties,” said Sonia Gandhi.
The interim Congress president was speaking at the crucial CWC meet underway amid talks of a leadership change in the party at the top, regarding which many Congress leaders have written to Sonia Gandhi.
The meeting comes weeks after the Congress saw a stormy meeting of its Rajya Sabha MPs wherein certain leaders sought introspection on the 2019 poll debacle. Thereafter, around 23 top Congress leaders, including former Chief Ministers, MPs, former Union Ministers and CWC members wrote a letter to Sonia Gandhi on the issue of leadership change and elections in the CWC.
The letter called for an urgent need for “full time and effective leadership”, which is both “visible’’ and “active’’ and an “urgent establishment of an institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively guide the party’s revival’’.
It also asked for decentralisation of power, elections in the party at all levels and empowerment of its state units.
The letter is reportedly signed by many senior leaders of the party including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, PJ Kurian, Renuka Chaudhary, and Milind Deora.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader AK Antony were the first to opine that Sonia Gandhi should continue till a new party president is elected. Antony termed the letter of “dissenting” Congress leaders as “unfortunate and cruel”.
An “upset” Rahul Gandhi, in his address, said he was “hurt” as the letter was leaked when the party was fighting the political battle in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
“Why was the timing of the letter chosen when Congress was fighting in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, when the Congress President was sick?” he questioned.
The former party president further accused the dissent letter writers of “colluding with the BJP.”
In quick response, Ghulam Nabi Azad said he will “resign if found to be guilty of colluding with the BJP”.
Apart from Ghulam Nabi Azad, three CWC members — Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada — are signatories of the dissent letter.
Responding to Rahul Gandhi’s accusation, Kapil Sibal said the signatories have “never made a statement in favour of BJP on any issue in the last 30 years”.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hit out at Ghulam Nabi Azad saying what he was saying is opposite of what has been written in the letter.
AICC General Secretary KC Venugopal, who made the opening remarks at the CWC meeting, hit out at the Congress “dissidents” questioning why the letter was leaked to media ahead of the meet.
According to reports on Sunday, Sonia Gandhi had told her aides that she does not want to continue as interim Congress president.
Congress Communication Department chief Randeep Surjewala, however, denied any such move, saying nothing has been communicated by the interim President or said on her behalf.
Meanwhile, the alleged August 7 letter by the “dissidents” has split the Congress down the middle with leaders like Amarinder Singh, Bhupesh Baghel and Siddaramaiah coming out in support of the Gandhis.
The current Congress President Sonia Gandhi took the interim position post her son, Rahul Gandhi resigned after suffering a massive defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Her one-year term as the party President ended on August 10, but the party said that she will continue on the post till a proper procedure was implemented.
Meanwhile, it was reported that neither former chief Rahul Gandhi nor party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi are keen on accepting the position of the President.
Before stepping down as party president last year, Rahul Gandhi had said that the party should search for a new leader outside the Gandhi family and specifically asked the party not to rope in his mother and sister for the position.
With the current internal clash, names of two Dalit leaders — Mallikarjun Kharge and Sushilkumar Shinde — are making the rounds as the likely replacements if Sonia Gandhi doesn’t want to continue.
While Kharge is close to Rahul Gandhi, Shinde has been a former Home Minister and Maharashtra Chief Minister.