In an interesting move, Congress President Sonia Gandhi appears to have reached out to feuding factions with the party. In a first outreach to senior leaders, she appointed former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to head the Screening Committee to select candidates for Assam assembly elections. Chavan was among the Group- 23 leaders who had written to her in August 2020 seeking a full-time, hands-on party president who will take full charge and control of the organisation.
Significantly involving Chavan in the state assembly election process came exactly two days after the dissenters or Group 23 had met under leadership of Ghulam Nabi Azad in Jammu at “Shanti Sammelan “. The Jammu event was meant to be a felicitation programme for Azad as he ended his long innings as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. But with half-a- dozen senior Congress leaders like Bhupinder Hooda, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha and Raj Babbar raising a red flag about the organisation getting “weak”, Sonia Gandhi perhaps deemed it fit to step in and chose to send out a different message–a message of inclusion and rapprochement .
Chavan’s inclusion in the AICC election management was viewed as a direct result of issues raised at “Shanti Sammelan”. Of course ,Chavan himself for some reason did not attend the Jammu event. Was he rewarded for not attending the event ? Maybe . At the meeting ,among the leaders who took a tough line was Rajya Sabha deputy leader Anand Sharma. His cocky punch line ” all of us have covered a long distance to reach where we’re today.. I’ve not given anyone the right to declare if we’re people of Congress or not, nobody has that right ” though was aimed at settling an old score.
Party circles admit that each of the leaders who had gathered at Jammu had their own personal grievance against the party high command. For instance Azad was hoping party leadership would bring him into Rajya Sabha from Kerala when 3 members retire from that state in April . But all those calculations went awry when the party made it clear that it wanted to replace Azad with Mallikarjun Kharge as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha . Several party MPs do not look forward to teaming up with a floor leader like Kharge, considering his unimpressive Lok Sabha stint earlier.
Significantly until a day earlier, it was felt generational fault lines within the Congress had become sharp and perhaps things had gone too far. It was as if those close to Rahul Gandhi no longer cared whether senior leaders remained within the Congress-fold or had left; some even gleefully took to demolishing a veteran like Ghulam Nabi Azad in the social media. A Tamil Nadu MP rushed to rake up issue of abrogation of Article 370 against Azad when he praised Prime Minister Modi in a different context .
Just when everything seemed to go topsy-turvy, it was left to Sonia Gandhi to step in to salvage the situation and make her unity moves; send out a clear signal that there was nothing like a split in the Congress– at least not when the party is in throes of fighting assembly elections in 5 states. That is why officially, the party played down the Jammu event with a dismissive reaction from the spokesperson who called on the leaders to participate in the Congress’s cause and ” not be active among ourselves.”
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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