Congress' exclusion of dissenters from UP panels belies Sonia Gandhi's claims of tolerating differences of opinion

In retrospect, the resolutions taken during the CWC, and not the Congress interim chief's conciliatory words, appeared to be a sign of things to come.

FP Staff September 07, 2020 12:57:57 IST
Congress' exclusion of dissenters from UP panels belies Sonia Gandhi's claims of tolerating differences of opinion

File image of Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi. PTI

The Congress on Sunday announced seven committees for the state of Uttar Pradesh, but left out key party leaders who had recently criticised the party's functioning. The announcement has come well ahead of the elections in the key Hindi heartland state, scheduled to be held in 2022.

Leaders such as Jitin Prasada and Raj Babbar, who were signatories to a letter to Sonia for a re-haul of the organisation, have failed to find a place in the new committees.

Former Union minister RPN Singh is another senior leader who has not found a berth in any of the committees. India Today has quoted a party source as saying that he may have been ignored for having aired his difference of opinion over the party’s strategy on Chinese incursions during a party meeting a couple of months ago.

On the other hand, those who denounced the letter writers in the "Group of 23" like Nirmal Khatri and Naseeb Pathan have found places in the panels.

Senior leaders sidelined despite Sonia's call for unity

The sidelining of senior leaders shortly after they criticised the party's manner of working is in sharp contrast to Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi's appeal to keep the party together in the aftermath of the internal crisis.

During a Congress Working Committee meeting on 24 August, Sonia appeared to have taken an accommodative approach in dealing with the dissenting voices, as she said, “We are a large family. We have differences and different views on many occasions...I hold no ill-will for any party member. Keep the party together."

However, in retrospect, the resolutions taken during the CWC — and not the Congress interim chief's conciliatory words — appeared to be a sign of things to come. The CWC, in the meeting, had authorised the Congress president to bring about necessary organisational changes to tackle the challenges faced by the party.

The CWC had also unanimously resolved to strengthen the hands of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in every possible way, while making it clear that no one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership.

These sternly-worded resolutions, seen together with Prasada and Babbar being left out of party committees, are an indication that the party leadership is in no mood to brook dissent.

In late August itself, while the row over the letter was still going on, it had become apparent that the party was unlikely to heed calls for reform. Shortly after the letter by the 23 leaders, a slew of senior leaders, including several chief ministers, rushed to the defence of the Congress' first family.

Among those who backed the Gandhis were Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot.

"Sonia Gandhi should continue to helm the Congress as long as she wants," Singh had said, adding that Rahul Gandhi should thereafter take over as he is fully competent to lead the party.

The statements of these three chief ministers, as also several other Congress leaders, signal that the party is presently unwilling to look beyond the Gandhis for the leadership of the party.

Indeed, in Uttar Pradesh itself, the Congress' strategy to win over young voters involves a quiz competition on the life and achievements of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. According to Hindustan Times, the quiz is to be held on 13 and 14 September and the party has announced that laptops, tablets and smartphones will be awarded to the winners.

The party's decision to leave out senior leaders who raised concerns about the party's leadership, thus, appears to be a part of the same general trend.

Salman Khurshid, PL Punia among leaders picked

The committees that have been announced in view of the Uttar Pradesh elections on Sunday are the manifesto committee, outreach committee, membership committee, programme implementation committee, training and cadre development committee, Panchayati Raj election committee and media and communication advisory committee.

While Salman Khurshid, PL Punia, Aradhana Misra, Supriya Shrinate, Vivek Bansal and Amitabh Dubey are in the manifesto committee, those in the outreach committee include Pramod Tiwari, Pradip Jain, Gajraj Singh, Naseemuddin Siddiqui, Imran Masood and Bal Kumar Patel.

Those in the membership committee are Anugrah Narayan Singh, Ajay Kapoor, BL Khabri, Mohd Muqeem, former MP Kamal Kishore "Commando" and former Varanasi MLA Ajay Rai.

The media and communication advisory committee has Rashid Alvi, Lalitesh Pati Tripathi, Akhilesh Pratap Singh, Surendra Rajput, Omkar Singh and Virendra Madan. The UPPCC president and the CLP leader will be ex-officio members of all the committees, an official communication from the party said.

The Congress has already begun the process of consultations for preparing the manifesto, according to a report in The Indian Express. The report has quoted sources as saying that the first consultation was held in Kanpur in January and some 48 organisations had participated in the meeting.

The Congress has been suffering a string of setbacks in Uttar Pradesh in recent years. In the 2017 Assembly polls, it won only seven seats despite allying with the Samajwadi Party. The party won two seats in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and one seat in the 2019 election. In 2019, former party president Rahul Gandhi had lost the traditional party bastion of Amethi to the BJP's Smriti Irani.

Dissenting voices in party

Last month, twenty-three senior Congress leaders, including chief ministers, sitting MPs and former Union ministers, had written to interim party chief Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes in the organisation.

The letter had called for full time and effective leadership, visible and active in the field, elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and an “institutional leadership mechanism” aimed at the party’s revival.

Further, on Sunday, nine expelled Congress leaders wrote to party president Sonia Gandhi, asking her to "rise above the affinity for the family (parivaar ke moh)" and run the organisation by establishing mutual trust and restoring the constitutional and democratic values.

In the letter dated 2 September and addressed to Sonia, the nine Congress leaders, including former MP Santosh Singh and former minister Satyadev Tripathi, said Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi built the Congress and the country with democratic values.

But it's ironical that for some time, the way in which the party is being run, there is confusion ("asmanjas") and depression ("avsaad") among the ordinary Congress worker, they added.

The leaders had been expelled from the primary membership of the Congress on 24 November last year for six years for allegedly tarnishing the party''s image and opposing its leadership''s decisions at public forums.

With inputs from PTI

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