Ahead of elections to four states and a Union Territory, dissenters within the Congress, led by Ghulam Nabi Azad, on Saturday fired a salvo at the leadership, claiming that the party was “getting weaker” across the country.
Seven Congress leaders, who gathered in Jammu for ‘Shanti Sammelan' — an event organised by Azad’s NGO Global Gandhi Family — also had an advice to the next generation led by Rahul Gandhi, to connect to the party.
Besides Azad, senior leaders Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Vivek Tankha, Raj Babbar and Manish Tewari attended the meeting. The seven were part of the Group of 23, who had written a letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi in August last year demanding a “fulltime and “more visible” leadership.
“The Congress party has weakened. We need to strengthen it. Let us accept this. I don't know why the party is not utilising the services of Azad. We have to strengthen the party with his guidance,” said Sibal, a former union minister and Rajya Sabha member.
The Congress frowned at the gathering of dissenters, saying they would have served the party better had they toured election-bound states.
“When elections are happening in five states (West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and the Union Territory of Puducherry), these leaders could have been there to strengthen the party,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.
At the same time, Singhvi added that the party was “proud of them” but reminded that Azad had a long career in Parliament as a seven-term member and enjoyed key positions in the Congress.
“Sonia Gandhi had even nominated him as J&K chief minister… but nobody had used the word ‘istemal’ (use) in relation to Azad,” Singhvi said in an apparent reference to Sibal’s remarks.
Singhvi refused to comment on whether the party would take disciplinary action against the leaders. However, the younger leadership obliquely commented on the developments, saying that “pus should be removed before it turns into an ulcer”.
“For those who don’t get the context,” Saral Patel, national convenor of the AICC Social Media Department, tweeted, posting a photograph of empty bullet shells.
Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, echoed Sibal and asked the next generation, which has been targeting them at internal party meetings, to connect well with the organisation.
“All of us have covered a long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody has parachuted or come through the window. We have all walked through the doors, through students’ movements and youth movements,” Sharma said.
“We have given our blood and sweat for the party. Nobody has the right to tell us whether we are Congressmen or not. We will remake the Congress. The Congress is our identity and we are Congress' identity. Unity of Congress is important,” Sharma said, hitting out at detractors within the party.
Azad told the gathering that he was not retiring from politics yet and that the leaders who had come with him for the felicitation ceremony to Jammu had raised the issue of J&K strongly in Parliament for years.
“I have retired from Parliament several times, I have bounced back several times,” the former J&K chief minister told the gathering and added that more leaders wanted to come.