Over­haul talks took place in March

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - News - Harinder Baweja

NEWDELHI: In­for­mal de­lib­er­a­tions over the need for re­forms within the Congress party started at least five months ago at a din­ner hosted by Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Shashi Tha­roor, sev­eral Con­gress­men who were his guests have con­firmed to HT -- a dis­clo­sure that high­lights that the let­ter sent to Congress in­terim pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi by 23 lead­ers was in the mak­ing for some time.

Im­por­tantly, many who were a part of the din­ner meet­ing have not put their sig­na­tures to the let­ter, which was ad­dressed to Gandhi and sent on Au­gust 7. Prom­i­nent among those who at­tended Tha­roor’s din­ner – but did not sign the let­ter ask­ing for a “vis­i­ble” and “ac­tive” leader – are for­mer Union min­is­ter P Chiseek­ing dambaram, his son Karti Chi­dambaram, Sachin Pi­lot, Ab­hishek Manu Singhvi, and Mani Shankar Iyer.

Singhvi con­firmed his pres­ence at the din­ner. “I was in­vited to the din­ner by Shashi Tha­roor at a day’s no­tice. There was an in­for­mal dis­cus­sion on the con­struc­tive is­sue of re­forms within the party. Sub­se­quently, I was not in­formed about the for­mu­la­tion of the let­ter, at any stage,” he told HT.

Chi­dambaram said he did not want to com­ment on “party af­fairs”. Pi­lot, only last month, led a re­volt against Ra­jasthan chief min­is­ter Ashok Gehlot, be­fore re­turn­ing to the party fold, af­ter a meet­ing with Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and did not com­ment on the mat­ter. Tha­roor did not re­spond to calls and mes­sages

com­ment.

Mani Shankar Iyer was more forth­right , say­ing, “I did not sign [the let­ter] be­cause I was not asked to. No­body ap­proached me.” Of the din­ner in March, Iyer said, “There was a gen­eral dis­cus­sion to re­vive the party and the need to go back to our sec­u­lar cre­den­tials. There was a sug­ges­tion, which no­body op­posed, of the need to send a let­ter. No­body, how­ever, ap­proached me af­ter that din­ner.”

The Congress Work­ing Com­mit­tee (CWC), the party’s high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body, dis­cussed the con­tro­ver­sial let­ter signed by the lead­ers at a marathon ses­sion on Mon­day -- and then de­cided to main­tain sta­tus quo, al­though there was talk that she would now be as­sisted by a com­mit­tee for the next six months till a meet­ing of the All In­dia Congress Com­mit­tee

(AICC). The CWC resolution, how­ever, made no men­tion of a com­mit­tee.

One Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, who is a sig­na­tory to the let­ter and was also at Tha­roor’s din­ner, said on con­di­tion of anonymity that he signed be­cause he be­lieves that there is an ur­gent need for re­forms within the Congress. “It is about is­sues, not per­son­al­i­ties. The Gand­his and other se­nior lead­ers should read the mes­sage and not shoot the mes­sen­ger. We have put our names to the let­ter be­cause we be­lieve that we need to re­form. There is no cloak and dag­ger here.”

The let­ter rep­re­sented the first direct ques­tion­ing of the Gand­his. The party has faced re­volts in the past but no one from within has chal­lenged the author­ity of So­nia Gandhi since Sharad Pawar’s re­volt in 1999.

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