The much-anticipated meeting between Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and senior leaders from the so-called Group of 23 ‘dissenters’ did break the ice between loyalists and those seen as rebels, but wasn’t able to completely mend ties.
The meeting took place in the backdrop of a string of electoral losses for the Congress in state and local body elections as had been predicted by the dissenters in their letter to Sonia Gandhi in August. The group, which included Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari, had warned that the party’s fortunes would not change for the better in the absence of clarity on leadership.
At the meeting, sources say there was an indirect attack on Rajiv Satav and Randeep Surjewala who handled the Gujarat bypolls and Bihar elections, respectively. Who will take responsibility for the losses, was the question put forth by the rebel group. Objections were also raised over Friday’s press conference by Surjewala in which he said 99.9% Congress leaders wanted Rahul Gandhi to become party president. The so-called rebels felt this statement was made to downplay the point which had been raised by them in the letter.
At the over four-hour long meeting, the issue of next president wasn’t discussed. Sonia Gandhi made it clear that the electoral process had begun and the leadership issue would be finalized soon. But some seniors like Harish Rawat and AK Antony said that Rahul Gandhi should take charge soon. Sources say that Rahul responded by saying that the meeting was not called to decide who the next president would be. The meeting had to focus on firming up the organization, he said, a statement endorsed by Azad & Company. A suggestion was also made that another Chintan Shivir should be held to formulate a plan to combat the BJP and bounce back.
Rahul Gandhi said contrary to perception, he wasn’t against party seniors. Sources said he told the gathering that he respected senior leaders not just for their experience but also because they were his father Rajiv Gandhi’s colleagues.
The statement is hoped to help end the seniors versus juniors rift in the party at a time when it also suffers a trust deficit. Many seniors feel that they were being sidelined by the younger lot who are close to Rahul Gandhi. His outreach to the seniors is seen as a significant effort by Sonia Gandhi to ensure that the party stays together.
Also present at the meeting was Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who made the point that the party needs to go to the streets and cannot run through circulars and memorandum.
The meeting may not be able to arrest the party’s slide anytime soon. But for the moment at least, it counters the perception that the Congress is deeply divided.