Diluting Dissent The Congress Way To Keep The Flock Together

While playing a strong opposition is fine, the grand old party also needs to put its own house in order, address the organizational gaps, empower more younger leaders with key party roles and take up pro-people issues to win back the voters.

A quiet effort to dilute dissent by giving party responsibilities to the disgruntled elements is on within the Congress, which is trying to keep its flock together to take on the BJP.

In August last year, dissent had surfaced in the grand old party when a group of 23 senior leaders wrote a letter to Congress interim chief Sonia Gandhi, demanding a thorough revamp of the organization, a full time and visible president, and elections for all party posts down to the block level.

Interim Congress President Sonia Gandhi

The dissenters, who came to be known as the G23, were given a hearing through an online meeting of the Congress Working Committee, where they were targeted by Gandhi family loyalists for questioning the high command, but were also given an assurance their concerns would be looked into.

However, nothing much happened and things moved at a usual pace till an organizational reshuffle was carried out in September in which a younger Jitin Prasada, one of the signatories to the dissent letter, was picked up, promoted as an All India Congress Committee General Secretary and given the uphill task of turning around the party’s fortune in West Bengal, which was to have assembly polls in April 2021.

The others, including the then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, who sort of led the group of 23, and his deputy in the upper house of Parliament Anand Sharma, who headed the party’s foreign affairs department, were left wondering if a long spell of isolation awaited them for writing the letter.

Azad’s membership of the Rajya Sabha ended in February this year and with no key party role given to him since August, it looked like the veteran would move to the margins till Sonia brought him back on May 11 to head the Congress Covid Relief, Task Force.

Veteran Anand Sharma, who used to frequently defend the party and attack the government on various issues at the AICC briefings, too had gone silent but was suddenly back recently articulating the party’s position on international affairs, particularly the recent Israel-Palestine flare-up in West Asia.

In the September reshuffle, another veteran and signatory to the letter Mukul Wasnik was made in charge of Madhya Pradesh.

Lok Sabha member Manish Tewari, who too had signed the dissent letter, had been active in Parliament since 2019 but was not much involved in the party affairs. He was made a member of the panel reviewing the recent poll losses in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry, the day Azad was named head of the Covid relief group.

In March, another G23 member and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan too was given the sensitive task of screening the party’s candidates for the high stakes Assam assembly polls to benefit from his clean image.

rafale; Chavan
Former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan

Interestingly, this was the second patch-up attempt. A similar reach out had taken place earlier in December 2020 when Sonia held detailed consultations with some members of the G23 to discuss the party’s way forward.

In the months following the August 2020 letter, the resistance of the dissenters had been tackled but Sonia wanted to convey a message that they were still part of the organization and should feel involved.

The high command was concerned that any further delay in addressing the issues raised by the seniors might push them further away from the grand old party and may even induce them to damage the organization from within.

On their part, these dissenters had given media interviews to explain their position that they were not against the high command but only wanted an improvement in the party, which had suffered several polls reverses since losing the 2014 and the 2019 national elections consecutively.

Party veteran Kapil Sibal, one of the key G23 members, had questioned the leadership over the Bihar assembly poll loss but did not attend the December meeting.

The dissenters had reportedly been provoked to write the letter to Sonia amid broad hints that Rahul Gandhi, who was elected to the top party post in 2017 but resigned in 2019 taking moral responsibility for the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, may again be made the Congress chief.

Also Read: “Lakshadweep’s Future Threatened By Anti-People Policies”: Rahul Gandhi Writes To PM Modi

Six months since the December get-together, the leadership issue has once again been deferred amid indications that some reservations over Rahul’s upgrade still remain.

Though there is no direct link between the Congress high command’s second reach out to the so-called dissenters and the leadership issue, party insiders think the move is part of a plan to keep the flock together to take on the Centre.

The Congress, which failed to register a decent performance in the four assembly polls, deferred the decision to elect a new party president in June citing the raging pandemic.

The party managers had hoped that a good show in the four-state polls held in April would help create a situation conducive for Rahul to take over the reins of the party.

It was feared that pushing Rahul’s candidature amid poll losses may lead to a split in the party and that the process should be taken forward in an amicable way.

A postponement of presidential polls by a few months has been done in the hope that by that time the pandemic would come under control and the party’s internal dissent too would get diluted, paving the way for the move that many in the organization believe is a foregone conclusion.

The devastating second wave of Coronavirus has brought unimaginable pain among the people and exposed the Centre’s ill-preparedness in dealing with the pandemic.

The scale of the tragedy, which has consumed thousands of lives, has given the opposition party a long handle to target the government.

The crisis has also given Congress a chance to showcase that it cares for the people even when out of power. Herein, the role of the Covid relief panel headed by Azad becomes crucial.

However, while playing a strong opposition is fine, the grand old party also needs to put its own house in order, address the organizational gaps, empower more younger leaders with key party roles and take up pro-people issues to win back the voters.

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