Tuesday, 30 November, 2021

Sonia Gandhi hits back at party reformists

New Delhi: 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 a "visible and effective leadership".

Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee - the party's highest decision-making body - Sonia Gandhi, who has been interim President since Rahul Gandhi quit in 2019 - 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 triggered public spats between leaders in both camps.

"I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President..." she 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."

Sonia Gandhi also 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, warning the 'G-23' against leaking to the press.

Sometime during the meet senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad - a 'G-23' member - was quoted by news agency ANI as saying: "We have full faith in Sonia Gandhi ji and nobody is questioning her leadership."

The CWC met to finalise the schedule for organisational elections - a full-time Congress President and a team of new office-bearers will be chosen in September next year, sources have said. This is a long-standing demand of the 'G-23' who, in their comments and letters, have cited poor performances in previous Assembly elections and again in polls held in five states in April and May, including Bengal, where the party flopped and called for sweeping structural changes.

On the subject of internal elections Sonia Gandhi admitted that "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 internal elections had been scheduled for June this year before Covid 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," she said.

She pointed out polls had been scheduled for June but had to be postponed because of Covid. Concurrently the party will also have to plan for Assembly elections in key states, including Punjab, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. Those three states are likely to be seen as key indicators of the Congress' pull with voters ahead of national elections next year.

"Our preparations began a while back. Undoubtedly, we face many challenges but, if we are united, disciplined, and focused on the party's interests alone, I am confident we will do well," Mrs Gandhi said.

The 57 members met on Saturday include Sonia 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).