'Collective leadership' on CWC anvil as Cong faces worst crisis in decades

File photo of Interim President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi
A mechanism to lead the Congress (I) via ‘collective leadership’ is expected to be spelt out at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting scheduled for Monday, underscoring the worst internal crisis in the party in the last ten years. Interim President Sonia Gandhi is expected to offer her resignation at the meeting.

Twenty-three party members at varying levels of seniority are reported to have signed a letter earlier this month, addressed to interim president Sonia Gandhi, asking for a collective leadership mechanism. The faultlines created by this letter were felt at a meeting of Rajya Sabha leaders called by Sonia Gandhi to take stock of the party earlier this month, where members said they were feeling crippled by lack of leadership. One year of Sonia Gandhi's 'interim presidentship' came to an end on August 10.

All those who have ever been made to feel diminished or insulted in the past by party leader Rahul Gandhi, appeared to have banded together to suggest that he should acknowledge his lack of success in leading the party and pass the baton on to a committee-like structure that could take command.
As Law minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2013, Kapil Sibal was a victim of a calculatedly impetuous act by then MP Rahul Gandhi, who publicly tore up an ordinance that protected convicted lawmakers drafted by his own party. Prithviraj Chavan had to fight tooth and nail to seek the party’s endorsement to form a government in Maharashtra in collaboration with the Shiv Sena, arguing that if the Congress did not support the Sena government, the BJP would become impossible to dislodge from Maharashtra. Many of these leaders were the target of a pointed attack by Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, who alleged that by favouring kin in giving tickets for the Lok Sabha elections, some of these leaders had themselves scripted the defeat of the party, as most of the candidates lost.

Talking to Business Standard, top party leaders said that a young-versus-old clash was a misnomer for the internal upheaval that the party was facing. However, it was clear that those who saw themselves as Rahul Gandhi appointees perceived a threat to their turf from senior leaders.

In the letter, the leaders said the CWC is not “effectively guiding” the party any more in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The leaders termed the CWC meetings “episodic”, adding that they are convened in reaction to political developments. The CWC should be a deliberative body for setting the national agenda and for policy initiatives, they said.

The leaders also said the meetings of Congress Parliamentary Party see no discussions anymore, and have been reduced to the customary address of the chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, where mere obituaries are read out.

The letter said the party has not undertaken any “honest introspection” even over a year after the Lok Sabha election rout to find out reasons for its continued “decline”. It asserted that the “uncertainty” over the leadership and the “drift” in the party has demoralised workers and weakened the party.

The letter also put forth a range of suggestions and demanded reforms-—decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, an urgent constitution of a central parliamentary board and elections to the Congress organisation at all levels —-from block-level leadership to the CWC. Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, former ministers Kapil Sibal and Shashi Tharoor, and younger leaders such as Milind Deora and Jitin Prasada have signed the document.

The letter now sets the stage for a stormy session of the Congress Working Committee on Monday. When former party spokesperson Sanjay Jha spoke of such a letter recently, the party’s chief spokesperson, Randeep Singh Surjewala, took to Twitter to rebut Jha, whose claim created a buzz in the Congress circles. He called it a ploy by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to divert attention from other issues.

Senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor took to Twitter on Sunday and posted a cryptic tweet on loss of hope and lack of “passion and urge”: a quote from Jawaharlal Nehru that had no context.

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