New Delhi:The meeting of the Congress Working Committee on Monday to deliberate on leadership change in the party witnessed stormy proceedings withSonia Gandhi offering to resign as party chief and requesting CWC to begin deliberations to replace her even as former party president Rahul Gandhi questioned timing of letter written by senior party leaders to her, sources said .
The sources said that in a letter read out at the start of the CWC meeting by AICC General secretary K C Venugopal, Mrs Sonia Gandhi was asked to be relieved as Congress president .
The letter, written in response to a letter written by several top leaders calling for overhaul of the party organization , requested CWC to start the process to replace her as interim president.
Former Prime Minister and senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh and senior leader and former Defence Minister AK Antony , however, requested Gandhi to continue in her current role.Dr Manmohan Singh urged Sonia Gandhi to continue as Congress interim president for the entire session.
Senior leader A K Antony said that if Mrs Sonia Gandhi is unwilling to continue as Congress interim chief, Rahul Gandhi should take over.Sources said that speaking at the meeting, Rahul Gandhi questioned the timing of letter to Sonia Gandhi and said he was deeply hurt over the letter.
Mr Gandhi asked why the letter was sent at a time when the party was fighting in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and when Sonia Gandhi was ill.He said that the right place to discuss what was written in the letter was CWC meeting and not the media.
Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh also said he was "hurt" by the letter seeking changes in CWC.Ghulam Nabi Azad, among the signatories to the letter, explained the reasons for the letter. At the same time, he praised the leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
In a tweet responding to Rahul 's criticism, an angry Congress leader Kapil Sibal, one of the signatories of the letter.
said, "Rahul Gandhi says " we are colluding with BJP . Succeeded in Rajasthan High Court defending the Congress Party... defended party in Manipur...yet we are colluding with BJP.''
AICC media in-charge Randeep Surjewala, however, dismissed reports that Rahul Gandhi had charged the leaders who wrote the letter of colluding with the BJP.
.'' Mr Rahul Gandhi hasn't said a word of this nature nor alluded to it. don't be mislead by false media discourse or misinformation being spread.But yes, we all need to work together in fighting the draconian Modi rule rather than fighting & hurting each other & the Congress,''Surjewala said.
After, the clarification by Randeep Surjewala, Mr Sibal withdrew his tweet.''Was informed by Rahul Gandhi personally that he never said what was attributed to him . I therefore withdraw my tweet,''Sibal said.
Sources said that in their letter to Mrs Gandhi, senior leaders of the Congress, including former Chief Ministers, many Congress Working Committee members, sitting MPs, and several former Union Ministers, had called for sweeping changes, from top to bottom. In the letter, the party leaders expressed concern on the erosion of the support base of the party.
Sources said that the letter, the signatories to which include Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former Union Ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor; MP Vivek Tankha; AICC office bearers and CWC members including Mukul Wasnik and Jitin Prasada and former Chief Ministers and Union Ministers , calls for a sweeping range of reforms, decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, elections to the Congress organisation at all levels, from the block to the CWC and the urgent constitution of a Central parliamentary board.
Being chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the meeting of the CWC is being attended by senior leaders of the party, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Amarinder Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Mukyl Wasnik and others.
The meeting comes amid an increasing demand within the party for an overhaul in the organizational set up as the party gets ready to take on the Narendra Modi government on various issues like a massive downslide in the economy, rising unemployment, constantly increasing number of Covid cases, the longstanding standoff with China on the border and other issues.In a recent letter to the Congress president, a group of party leaders sought a complete overhaul of the organisation.
Sources said that responding to the letter, Mrs Gandhi on Sunday expressed her desire to quit as Party chief and asked party leaders to get together to select a new party chief. The sources said that Mrs Gandhi said she does not want to carry out the responsibilities of party chief any further and asked party leaders to get together to select a new party chief.
The leaders, it is learnt, have pointed out that the "uncertainty" over the leadership and the "drift" in the party had demoralised workers and weakened the party. Importantly, they are learnt to have said that the CWC is not "effectively guiding" the party anymore in mobilising public opinion against the BJP government.
Notwithstanding her offer to resign, several senior leaders of the party have pitched for the continuance of Mrs Gandhi as party chief.Senior Party leader Ashok Gehlot, however, termed the letter by the party leaders as unfortunate and said that he believes Sonia Gandhi should continue to lead the party at this crucial juncture
''News of 23 senior most Congress leaders writing letter to Hon'ble CP is unbelievable and if it is true - it's very unfortunate was no need to go in media I strongly believe that Hon'ble CP Sonia Gandhi ji should continue to lead the party at this crucial juncture where the fight is to save the ethos of our Democracy. She has always taken challenges head on. But if she has made up her mind -I believe Rahul Gandhi should come ahead and be the Congress President as country faces the biggest challenge to save our Constitution -Democracy,''Gehlot said.
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has also backed Mrs Gandhi as party chief.
On 10 August, Mrs Gandhi completed one year as interim Congress chief .Congress had then said that she would continue till the process for electing the party president gets implemented.
In the last few months, there has been a renewed demand from several quarters for bringing back Rahul Gandhi as the Congress chief given the fact that he has , in the last one year, constantly taken on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government at the centre on various issues like a massive downturn in the economy, rising unemployment, mismanagement of the Covid crisis, the failure of the Modi government to prevent Chinese intrusion in the Indian territory and alleged irregularities in the deal for Rafale fighter aircrafts.
Though, an year ago, Rahul Gandhi had insisted that no member of the Gandhi family would assume the post of party chief, many in the party feel that in the current situation, it is only a young leader like Rahul Gandhi who can take on the Modi Government given the fact that he has relentlessly attacked the PM and the BJP on various issues. The renewed pitch for Rahul as party chief comes after the significant role played by him in resolving the longstanding crisis faced by the Congress Party in Rajasthan after a meeting with party rebel Sachin Pilot.
Sources said that the meeting of the CWC is likely to witness a heated discussion on the issue of an overhaul of the national leadership and need for a more robust strategy to take on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government.
Significantly, Mr Gandhi resigned from the post of President taking responsibility for the party's defeat in the 2019 general election and after that, his mother Sonia Gandhi was re-elected as the interim President. Now the demand to make Mr Rahul Gandhi president again was gaining momentum. Several people, including party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, have said from the party platform that the demand to re-appoint Mr Gandhi to the post of president was in line with the sentiments of most party leaders.
The CWC meeting is also likely to discuss general issues like prevailing political circumstances, the Chinese border intrusion, unemployment in the country and economic situation in the country. Also, the Election Commission's new guidelines for conducting elections due to Covid-19 restriction could come up for discussion.