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First pushback: 23 senior Congress leaders stand up, write to Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes

SIX years after the party’s electoral rout pushed it into a continuing downward spiral, 23 senior leaders of the Congress, including five former Chief Ministers, many Congress Working Committee members, sitting MPs, and several former Union Ministers, have, in an unprecedented pushback, sent a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes, from top to bottom.

Acknowledging the rise of the BJP and admitting that the youth decisively voted for Narendra Modi, the letter points out that the erosion of the support base and losing the confidence of the youth are matters of serious concern.

The letter, learnt to have been sent a fortnight ago, details a reforms agenda that is, in effect, a stinging indictment of the current leadership.

It calls for a “full time and effective leadership” which is both “visible” and “active” in the field; elections to the CWC; and the urgent establishment of an “institutional leadership mechanism” to “collectively” guide the party’s revival.

The signatories to the letter include Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad; party MPs and former Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor; MP Vivek Tankha; AICC office bearers and CWC members including Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada and former Chief Ministers and Union Ministers including Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Rajender Kaur Bhattal, M Veerappa Moily, Prithviraj Chavan, P J Kurian, Ajay Singh, Renuka Chaudhary, and Milind Deora; former PCC chiefs Raj Babbar (UP), Arvinder Singh Lovely (Delhi) and Kaul Singh Thakur (Himachal); current Bihar campaign chief Akhilesh Prasad Singh, former Haryana Speaker Kuldeep Sharma; former Delhi Speaker Yoganand Shastri and former MP Sandeep Dixit.

Arguing that the revival of the Congress is “a national imperative” fundamental to the health of democracy, the letter, sources said, underlines how the party’s steady decline comes when the country faces its “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence.”

These are listed in the letter, sources said, as a mood of “fear” and insecurity; the BJP and Sangh Parivar’s “communal and divisive agenda,” economic recession, ballooning unemployment; hardships caused by the pandemic; challenges on the border, including the standoff with China and the drift in foreign policy.

Their letter calls for a sweeping range of reforms, decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, elections to the Congress organisation at all levels, from the block to the CWC and the urgent constitution of a Central parliamentary board.

The leaders, it is learnt, have pointed out that the “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party had demoralised workers and weakened the party. Importantly, they are learnt to have said that the CWC is not “effectively guiding” the party anymore in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government.

While CWC meetings, they felt, are “episodic” and convened in reaction to political developments, the meetings of Congress Parliamentary Party have been reduced to the customary address of CPP chairperson Sonia Gandhi and obituary references.

There are no discussions in CPP anymore, they are learnt to have argued. The CWC, they are learnt to have said, should be a deliberative body for setting the national agenda and for policy initiatives.

The leaders, it is learnt, said that even over a year after the Lok Sabha election defeat, the party has not undertaken any “honest introspection” to find out reasons for its continued “decline”.

The leaders are learnt to have given many suggestions – among them appointment of a full-time and effective leadership active in the field and visible and available at AICC and state headquarters, constitution of the Central Parliamentary Board for “collective thinking” and decision making on organisational matters, policies and programmes; elections at all levels in a transparent manner and elections to choose of CWC members.

They have argued that it was time to establish an “institutional leadership mechanism” to collectively guide the party’s revival. While calling for collective leadership, the letter interestingly said the Nehru-Gandhi family will always remain an “integral part” of it.

While the Congress constitution has a provision for CWC to set up a Parliamentary Board consisting of the Congress President and nine other members, the practice has been discontinued long ago. The letter also talks about the need to unite the Opposition and rallying parties, headed by those who had left the Congress in the past.

Identifying areas of concern, the letter, sources said, has pointed out that key appointments of state Congress presidents and office bearers are unduly delayed and leaders who command respect and acceptability in the State are not appointed in time. Besides, state Congress presidents are not given freedom to take organisational decisions.

The letter, it is learnt, does not mention Rahul Gandhi but points out that the introduction of elections in Youth Congress and NSUI – the youth and student wings of the party – has created “conflict and division”. Several leaders have complained that elections to the Youth Congress and NSUI have resulted in their “capture” at the state level by those with money and political patronage.

The letter, sources said, appreciates the leadership provided by Sonia Gandhi and notes the praiseworthy efforts made by Rahul Gandhi as Congress president and argues the Nehru-Gandhi family will always remain an integral part of the “collective leadership” of the party.

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