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Sonia offers to step down from Cong, Veterans unhappy with move

Sonia Gandhi has communicated to her party colleagues that she is stepping down as the interim party president, following a letter written to her by at least 23 party leaders demanding a leadership overhaul. “She has asked to communicate to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) members that she doesn’t want to continue and is stepping down,” said a source.
 
Sonia’s move comes ahead of the CWC meeting slated for Monday, where there is expected to be a call for a new leader to take on the role of party president.
 
“The leadership will be further discussed at the CWC meeting,” another source added.
 
Why Cong veterans dislike Rahul
 
Sonia’s move comes after several prominent leaders wrote to her demanding a “full time and effective leadership”. They also sought a leadership that is both “visible” and “active” in the field, and called for elections to be conducted for CWC membership.
 
Over 200 senior Congress leaders, including a couple of incumbent chief ministers and many members of Parliament (MPs), are prepared to join forces with the so-called letter bomb-makers — a section of senior leaders who wrote to Sonia Gandhi early August — to change the functioning of the party and its leadership, multiple party functionaries have told ThePrint.
In the letter, they had demanded a full-time president, elections from block to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) levels and “collective leadership”, of which the Gandhi family would be an integral part.
 
Sonia Gandhi has been functioning as interim president since August last year, after Rahul Gandhi resigned taking responsibility for the party’s debacle in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
 
Four senior Congress leaders have been at the forefront of the latest attempt to shake up the party leadership. They include former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda and three former Union ministers — Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Hooda told ThePrint that he didn’t want to discuss “internal party matters”, while the other three leaders didn’t respond to calls for their comment.
 
Kharge in Rajya Sabha a sticking point
 
While the former Haryana CM, a mass leader, has reasons to be upset with Rahul Gandhi who has been undermining him for the past six years, Ghulam Nabi Azad whose Rajya Sabha term ends next February has been upset since the party command brought former opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, into the Upper House in June.
 
With no mass base in Jammu and Kashmir and the likelihood of Kharge replacing him as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Azad, a long-time Gandhi family loyalist, has chosen to take on Rahul Gandhi, says a Congress functionary.
 
Deputy leader of Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, who has never contested a direct election and has no base in his home state of Himachal Pradesh, is also said to be upset as Kharge’s entry ruins his chances of an elevation.
 
Although the letter bomb, manufactured by these four leaders, comes in the backdrop of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi’s seemingly concerted attempts to “humiliate” veteran leaders in the last few CWC meetings, party sources said these four leaders had been in touch with scores of leaders from various states “for at least five months”.
They had had several meetings and telephonic conversations before the letter was drafted and sent to the interim Congress president.
 
Signatories indecisive on how they want party to act
 
Multiple signatories of the letter seemed split in terms of their expectations from the party leadership. While a majority would like Rahul Gandhi, a “tried-and-rejected product”, to make way for “a politician who understands Modi’s politics”, a few are ready to live with him as long as he develops “better systems” in the party.
 
Their demand for internal elections would lead to the weeding out of Rahul’s close aides who have little hold in the organisation. The demand for the revival of the Congress Parliamentary Board is led by their assessment that it would give veterans a say in the decision-making process.
 
Ahead of the extended CWC meeting Monday, party functionaries told ThePrint that over 200 leaders were ready to back the letter-writers whenever “the need arises”, although they had chosen not to be signatories at this stage.
 
If there is any attempt to stifle the voices of the signatories and ignore their concerns, others will join in, said one of the signatories. Suspended Congress leader Sanjay Jha, who had blown the whistle about the letter by 100 Congress leaders to Gandhi last Monday, put their number at around 300 Sunday.
Rahul’s attempts to force veterans out behind letter
Although party leaders have been concerned about the drift and adhocism in the party, what appears to have triggered a seeming rebellion is the Gandhi family’s attempt to force the exit of veteran leaders as desired by Rahul Gandhi. Even after resigning, he has continued to run the party with his mother serving as a “rubber stamp”, say party leaders.
 
They claim that he was keen on taking over the post of Congress president but only after getting rid of senior party leaders who didn’t seem inclined to hang up their boots. The letter is seen as an attempt to ‘rein in’ Rahul and his powerful coterie of political greenhorns with privileged backgrounds. They have been seeking to undermine and drive out party veterans who served his parents — late Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi — for decades.
 
What alarmed veteran Congress leaders was their “humiliation” in CWC and other meetings — with Priyanka Gandhi Vadra joining Rahul Gandhi and his lieutenants to lead the charge against veterans and Sonia choosing to remain a mute spectator.
 
At the last CWC meeting, for instance, the brother-sister duo went after party veterans for not speaking enough against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At another meeting of the Rajya Sabha MPs, Rahul’s aide Rajiv Satav blamed the UPA government for the party’s electoral setbacks in the presence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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