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Editorial: Move ahead or move out of the way
As a much-needed ice-breaker, Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with senior Congressmen, including representations of the so-called G-23, that group of dissenters which sought greater intra-party democracy, cannot be faulted.
Some gesture such as this was desperately required to heal the wounds, and while the occasion had the appearance of an informal meeting, the presence of senior G-23 members such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Shashi Tharoor made it clear what it was really about – holding out an olive branch.
It was also significant that going by the reports on the proceedings, those gathered were allowed to speak their minds. This represents a change of heart from the turbulent days in August after the 23 had signed an explosive letter expressing concern about the state of affairs in the party and calling for active and visible leadership. To treat the letter as an act of defiance was one thing, but Gandhi family loyalists lost no time in portraying the 23 as betrayers of the party, with some even going to the extent of accusing them of being in cahoots with the BJP. Contrast this with the political sensitivity displayed at the recent meeting, which kept out a clutch of dyed-in-the wool Rahul Gandhi loyalists such as Randeep Surjewala and KC Venugopal, ostensibly to prevent getting the backs of the dissenters needlessly up.
But – and there is little that can be said about the Congress party without this qualifier – is this enough? The answer quite clearly is no. The grievances of the group of 23, which related to the moribund state of party affairs and the influence of cabals close to the Gandhi family, have not been addressed. Yes, there was a decision to hold a Chintan Shivir (which the party has held twice before), but such a brainstorming session will be held only in a post-Covid environment and on an unspecified date.
And then, of course, what about the elephant in the room? The question about a full-time Congress President was not adequately discussed. The lack of clarity over this has hung over the party ever since Rahul Gandhi decided to quit in a huff following the 2019 general election debacle. It is not enough now for him to say that the process of electing a new president has been initiated, which throws a veil of ambiguity on whether he will stand, whether he will nominate someone, or whether there will be an open and fair election.
The role of the Gandhi family in Congress affairs needs to be settled once and for all. Parties need to work through formal structures. What this meeting underlined is that the Congress remains a Gandhi family enterprise – otherwise, why would Rahul Gandhi, who has no position, be allowed to reportedly tick off senior leaders of the party. What role was there for Priyanka Gandhi, who according to some reports helped in brokering the meeting?
Rahul Gandhi needs to make a decision – either reclaim the leadership, a decision nobody will oppose, or refashion himself as an ordinary Congressman, a decision that at least some Congressmen, going by the looks of it, will not regret.
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