After the Congress’s defeat in five states, the “G-23” or group of dissident leaders in the party met at Ghulam Nabi Azad’s home in Delhi this evening amid calls by a section of the party for a complete overhaul and a non-Gandhi at the helm.
Those who drove to Mr Azad’s home for a dinner meet included Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Bhupinder Hooda, Akhilesh Prasad Singh, Prithviraj Chavan, Raj Babbar, PJ Kurien and Mani Shankar Aiyar.
Shashi Tharoor, who is known to be a fence-sitter when it comes to the Gandhis, is a surprise addition to the growing list. So is Mani Shankar Aiyar, a lifelong Gandhi family acolyte.
Mr Tharoor had posted a telling tweeted earlier today.
Without comment! pic.twitter.com/LsEGM9EapJ
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) March 16, 2022
The Congress lost Punjab to Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and failed in its attempt at a comeback in Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. In UP, where Priyanka Gandhi crafted the campaign, it was at the bottom. Though the party lost in five states, leaders from six states attended the rebels’ meet.
A few rebels had met on the evening of the election results at Mr Azad’s home.
Sources say today’s meeting was first called at Kapil Sibal’s home but the setting was changed because many leaders were “uncomfortable” with his trenchant attack on the Gandhis – a sign that the speculation on a split may be premature.
Kapil Sibal had said Monday it was time for the Gandhis to step aside and let someone else head the Congress.
“The leadership is in cuckoo land…I want a ‘Sab ki Congress’. Some want a ‘Ghar ki Congress’,” Mr Sibal had told the Indian Express.
Mr Sibal was apparently upset after a Congress Working Committee election post-mortem on Sunday, which ended with the party reaffirming its faith in Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and asking her to make organisational changes.
Sonia Gandhi, addressing leaders at that meeting, had offered her resignation as well as those of her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury told reporters. But this was unanimously rejected by Congress leaders, he said.
After serial election defeats since 2014 – when the Congress lost power to the BJP – the G-23 were the first to write to Sonia Gandhi in 2020 calling for sweeping organisational changes, a “full-time and visible leadership” and collective decision-making.
The rebels were isolated by Gandhi loyalists in the party, but after every debacle, they have continued to raise demands for a new leadership.
On Sunday, the four-and-a-half hour meeting followed the traditional course of “introspection” while refusing to commit to any drastic corrections.
Two days after the meet, Sonia Gandhi fired all Congress chiefs in the five states, including Navjot Singh Sidhu, who presided over the party’s drubbing in Punjab and who has been blamed for a series of missteps by the Gandhis in the state.
On state leaders taking the fall amid calls for the Gandhis to step aside, Manickam Tagore, who is said to be close to Rahul Gandhi, said the Congress would “disintegrate” without the Gandhis.
“I strongly believe Rahul Gandhi should be Congress president,” Mr Tagore told NDTV.
“You need to understand that the Gandhis unite the Congress. Without their leadership, the Congress starts to disintegrate.”
He said the leaders leaving the Congress were those who were greedy for power or a post.