A heated Congress Working Committee meeting took place yesterday amid the controversy over a dissenters’ letter demanding change of leadership and sweeping changes in the party organisation.
As many as 23 senior Congress leaders had written a letter to interim president Sonia Gandhi to hold elections to the CWC and call an All India Congress Committee session for party president election.
The letter was leaked to the media before the meeting causing turmoil in the grand old party. Visibly upset and hurt, Sonia Gandhi indicated her intention to quit the president’s post and asked KC Venugopal, organisational secretary to start the process to appoint a new president.
The discussions of the video conference were made live by journalists causing a major uproar. Rahul Gandhi allegedly confronted the dissenters, questioning how could they write such a letter given that his mother’s health was not fine and at a time when the party was fighting for survival in Rajasthan.
It was also leaked to sources that Rahul criticised the letter writers for ‘colluding with the BJP’ which was later retracted.
After a seven-hour-long marathon a resolution was passed detailing:
Sonia Gandhi will continue as interim president.
A committee will be formed to help Sonia Gandhi in day to day functioning of the organisation.
A session of the AICC will be called within six months to decide on the future course of action.
Many commentators have described this episode as a meek surrender by the dissenters and a blow to their revolt. It has also clearly displayed the stamp of authority of the Gandhi family over the affairs of the Congress party.
But perception is different from reality. In my assessment, the dissenters have won Round 1.
Do you think these gentlemen were really challenging Sonia Gandhi’s authority? Many of them are Sonia loyalists. They were actually targeting Rahul Gandhi.
Five reasons why all is not lost for dissenters:
1. The decisions taken in yesterday’s CWC meeting have effectively prevented Rahul from coming back as president for the next six months. Due to Sonia’s ill health, the call ‘Rahul Ji come back as President’ was gaining ground.
Many leaders and state units had started passing resolutions urging Rahul to take over as party chief. Now he cannot do that without an AICC meeting or elections.
2. The dissenters get six months to organise. This period can be utilised by them to garner support and highlight the importance of a non-Gandhi at the top. Many in the Congress, leaders as well as workers, believe Rahul is no match for Modi and has failed successively in elections.
3. They have ensured that elections take place for the post of party president within six months. Sonia Gandhi has occupied the Congress president’s post for close to 20 years. Jitendra Prasad had challenged her way back in 1998, but had lost badly. Elections will give them a chance at the top post.
4. The resolution has ensured Sonia will be at the helm for next six months: evidently, the Old Guard and a section of dissenters prefers Sonia to Rahul. They are peeved at the manner in which Rahul is steering the party from behind the scenes. His team has been calling the shots without taking senior leaders into confidence. His style of functioning has been criticised by even Sonia loyalists.
5. The dissenters have forced the Gandhi family to share power which they has centralised with the Gandhis. Sources inform that the party could appoint a few vice presidents to support Sonia. These most likely will be non-Gandhis, thus forcing the family to share power.
The post of vice president has been lying vacant after Rahul was elevated to the president’s post. In comparison, the Bharatiya Janata Party has 12 national vice presidents.
Rahul and Priyanka have both publicly stated many times that they want a non-Gandhi as the Congress president. The only way Rahul could get back to the top post is citing Sonia’s ill health and asking sycophants to root for his comeback. Then ostensibly, to prevent the party from disintegration in these turbulent times, he would cede to their request: the perfect script.
This script is now difficult to employ.
Any attempt to impose Sonia/Rahul/Priyanka or the loyalists will be challenged in the courts citing yesterday’s resolution. If an election happens, which appears most likely now, Rahul/Priyanka will have to go back on their word if they want to contest. This would be a PR disaster. If they prop somebody else up for polls, the dissenters have a real chance.
What would be the next move of the Gandhis to protect their legacy and ensure continuance of their sway over the Grand Old Party? Interesting times ahead...