A letter written by 23 senior Congress members to Congress’ interim President Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes in Congress and demanding a “full-time”, “visible” leadership has become a subject of debate after it was leaked in the media, and it remained a matter of discussion for most of the CWC meet held on Monday. While Rahul Gandhi hit out saying the letter was ill-timed and suggested the move might help the BJP, Sonia Gandhi said she was “hurt” but that she bore no “ill-will” towards anyone and called for Congress to work together. Senior Congress leaders on the other hand have assured that the letter was written with “the best interest of the party in our hearts”.
An overhaul to the organisational working of the Congress has been suggested by Congress stalwarts including Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad (the two taking the fight public), Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari, former Chief Ministers Bhupendra Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, and sitting AICC office bearers and CWC members. A call for sweeping changes has been made after more than 6 years since party’s electoral rout and after more than a year since the party’s continuing downward spiral. Perhaps they did not foresee the kind of “present environment in the country” then and the “gravest political, social and economic challenges since Independence” or the “communal and divisive agenda” of the ruling BJP since it took power in 2014 and retained it in 2019. This “drift” in the Congress which may have been realised earlier has now been admitted by these leaders. An organisational overhaul may have been overlooked earlier or it appeared less significant than revamping its leadership. But after the 2019 debacle and the resignation of its party president the leaders are suggesting at bringing changes in both, the organisation and its leadership.
The reforms suggested in the letter have called for decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, elections to the Congress organisation at all levels, including revamping the CWC in line with the party constitution. The CWC which was once the most powerful and representative bodies in pre- and post-independent India has been criticised for loss of democratic values with presence of nominated members and becoming a symbol of sycophancy. A paper by Observer Research Foundation calls a large number of CWC members “unprincipled, opportunists and self-serving individuals for whom self-interest is paramount.” An elected body is suggested to help the party in “effectively guiding” it in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government.
The letter also called for a “full time and effective leadership” which is both “visible” and “active” in the field. While to some extent the letter appears to be a criticism of the current President in so far as the “interim” and not permanent or full-time nature of her position is concerned the actual intent might be to elect a permanent President decisively.
Despite the 2019 electoral defeat Gandhis continue to remain “visible” and “active” on all national issues with Rahul Gandhi being the most vocal critic of the BJP government among all opposition leaders with his brazen remarks on economic recession, ballooning unemployment; hardships caused by the pandemic; challenges on the border, including the standoff with China and the drift in foreign policy. Even Congress realises that the Gandhis– Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka are the most nationally recognizable figures. However, the former Congress President has been criticized for taking decisions even after resigning that “creates confusion” and leads to “dual power centres”. Leaders have complained of him not being available or easily accessible when they wanted to express their grievances. A “certainty” over leadership has been suggested to boost the morale of party workers and strengthen the party.
With Rahul Gandhi refusing to reassume the post of party President the letter has called for the election of a full-time and active leader but in essence it is calling the recognizable future of the Congress – the young Gandhis – to act now and assume leadership to build a strong opposition which is vitally needed to keep the majority in check.