CWC meet: Seven hours of fireworks
Four of the 23 signatories to the letter were at the receiving end of attacks by other Congress members at the meeting
NEW DELHI: For seven hours on Monday, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting saw fireworks with 48 of the 52 members of the body coming down heavily on leaders who signed a letter addressed to party chief Sonia Gandhi asking for structural changes in the internal processes of the party.
Four of the 23 signatories – Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, general secretary Mukul Wasnik, former Union ministers Anand Sharma and Jitin Prasada – found themselves at the receiving end of attacks by other members.
These four leaders, along with senior leaders Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan and others -- sought a complete overhaul of the organisation, demanded formation of a parliamentary board, and maintained the Gandhis will always be an integral part of a “collective leadership”. A Congress functionary said the letter was triggered by apprehension among these leaders that the party high command might name a third person as the interim chief till internal elections are held as both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were said to not be keen to occupy the post.
“They wanted to scuttle that move and ensure that a leader acceptable to all occupies the post,” he said on condition of anonymity.
The CWC meeting started at 11am with party general secretary KC Venugopal reading out Sonia Gandhi’s letter addressed to him on August 20, asking him to initiate the process to elect a new president. Sonia Gandhi told Azad he sent her the letter on August 7 and then a reminder on August 15.
“It was hurtful. You know me so well, Azad sahib. How could you think that I will take any decision on the leadership issue without consulting party leaders? You could always come and meet me. I retired long ago. I don’t want to hang on to this chair. So what’s the motive of this letter?” a CWC member quoted her as having said at the meeting.
Rahul Gandhi questioned the timing of the letter. “It was written at a time when my mother was in hospital and you attacked her when she was at her weakest and also when the party was vulnerable, fighting the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” the CWC member quoted him as having said.
“Challenging her authority and talking about the collective leadership was an insult to her. I never wanted her to be the Congress president. She too didn’t want to become again,” Rahul Gandhi was quoted as saying.
Rahul Gandhi also asked Azad how the letter was reported in the press when the covering note said there was only one copy handed over to the Congress president and all other copies destroyed.
Party treasurer Ahmed Patel criticised the dissenters. Naming
Azad, Wasnik and Sharma, he said they were occupying key posts in the party and should not have written such a letter.
“I had advised you not to write any letter and told you that we will go and meet Sonia Gandhi personally, but you still went ahead. Do you want Sonia Gandhi to sit at home? Are you doing any favour to the Gandhis by saying they too will be part of the collective leadership? One may be angry over certain decisions in the party but that doesn’t mean you start writing letters. I too am out for the last three years but that is okay,” Patel said.
Patel also told Sharma that he should have realised what he was writing when he drafted the letter. “You are talking about collective leadership. When you met Baba Ramdev at the airport, did you go after consulting the then Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and the Congress president (Sonia Gandhi)?” Patel said. Sibal along with Pranab Mukherjee had met Ramdev at the Delhi airport in June 2011 to dissuade him from launching a fast during an agitation against corruption.
Former PM Manmohan Singh urged Sonia Gandhi to continue on the post till Rahul Gandhi becomes the president.
Former defence minister AK Antony said if Sonia Gandhi was unwilling then Rahul Gandhi should take over. “Weakening the high command is weakening the party. How can my colleagues write such a letter? This is cruel and unfortunate.”
Party general secretary
Ambika Soni demanded action against the 23 leaders. She said when the party can take action against block and district leaders for indiscipline why can’t it do the same against these leaders.
Wasnik insisted he was a party loyalist and would never go against the Gandhi family.
“I owe a lot to Sonia Gandhi. How can anyone say that we did it when she was in hospital? I wish her a long life. Nobody can question my loyalty to the Congress party. I am ready to face any action.”
Sharma said the letter is not against the Gandhis but only seeks to point out to certain issues in the Congress. “I joined the Congress at the age of 18 years and will die as a Congressman.”
When Azad was explaining the reason behind the letter, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Choudhary intervened and said “You are making lame excuses and defending the indefensible”. At this point, Sonia Gandhi asked Adhir to switch off his mike and not speak out of turn.
Prasada said he was ready to accept the CWC decision and whatever action it takes against him. “We had flagged certain organisational issues and in no way it was against the Gandhis.”
Former Union minister RPN Singh praised Sonia Gandhi for being available 24x7 to guide the party during Jharkhand elections. “We won the elections. Secondly, I want to tell all CWC members that we should all learn politics from Sonia Gandhi.”