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Losers, Winners, No-Gainers: In Surprise Reshuffle, Sonia Gandhi Sorts 23 Dissenters Into 3 Categories

By: Rasheed Kidwai

Last Updated: September 12, 2020, 14:23 IST

File photo of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. (AFP)

File photo of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. (AFP)

While Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal were on the losing side, the likes of Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tiwari, Prithviraj Chavan, Milind Deora and Vivek Tankha face an uncertain future.

Vintage Sonia Gandhi has taken the wind out of the sails of dissenters in the Congress. By drafting some in the Congress Working Committee in other important party panels, Sonia has, in effect, put a lid on growing disquiet, using the carrot-and-stick policy deftly.

Twenty-three dissenters who had authored a ‘bombshell’ letter questioning Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning, now face an un-envious task of re-grouping, which is nowhere in sight. Purely in theoretical terms, if dissenters like Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Jitin Prasada refuse to take up new responsibilities in the party organisation, only then would their resolve for Congress Working Committee polls sound genuine.

All eyes are now on how she intends to accommodate two senior leaders — Sachin Pilot and Shashi Tharoor. Pilot had not joined the group of 23, but had raised an ugly banner of revolt against Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. If Congress insiders are to be believed, Pilot is in for a meaty role in the AICC secretariat. Whether it would be the AICC media department is a matter of speculation at this point.

The high-profile post of the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha is vacant after the appointment of Adhir Ranjan Choudhury as Bengal Congress unit chief. Notionally, Choudhury can continue on both posts, but those familiar with Congress conventions and practices say Choudhury can be relieved of his parliamentary responsibilities in keeping with the party’s informal norm of ‘one man, one post’.

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In such a scenario, both Tharoor and Manish Tiwari can be contenders. However, if their defiance continues, it would be a gain for veteran K Suresh who is chief whip of the party in the Lok Sabha.

The induction of Mukul Wasnik in a special committee mandated to assist Sonia Gandhi has shaken the dissenters. The panel, consisting of AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, KC Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala, was the most sought-after. This panel is equivalent to a Congress Parliamentary Board or a group of “collective leadership” that dissenters wanted. If Sonia Gandhi travels out of the country in the near future, this panel will be acting for her in her absence.

A section of dissenters now wonder whether Wasnik was acting as a Trojan Horse. Wasnik has been an organisational man who has been close to successive party presidents, from Rajiv Gandhi to PV Nsarasimha Rao, Sitaram Kesri, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Therefore, his presence in G23 was always a bit weird. The recent Congress developments show that Sonia had all along remained a step ahead of the dissenters.

Looking at the new appointments and rejig in the AICC, G23 has now been reduced to three categories. Losers, winners and no-gainers. If Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal turn out to be the biggest losers, Tariq Anwar, Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh et al would qualify to be winners for having negotiated their elevation cleverly. But the likes of Tharoor, Manish Tiwari, Prithviraj Chavan, Milind Deora and Vivek Tankha face an uncertain future. They have an option to swallow pride and retreat or look for options which are nowhere in sight.

Anwar’s rise has been spectacular. Coming at a time when Bihar assembly polls are about to be announced, Anwar needs to send a ‘thank you note to Azad for creating a space for him which was not there prior to the letter bomb. Anwar had been party general secretary during Sitaram Kesri’s tenure and was expelled from the Congress for raising the issue of Sonia’s foreign origin with Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma. He repented and was forgiven, but a big office had eluded him so far.

Disclaimer:The author is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal.