A letter by a group of concerned Congress leaders, for once seeking "clarity", led to a 7-hour marathon meeting full of accusations by the unofficially official leader of the party Rahul Gandhi, and then came rejections, clarifications, and damage control from the both sides - End result? Sonia Gandhi will continue as the party president till the new chief is elected.
What led to this chaos? A total submission to the culture of the ‘High Command’.
In response to the letter, which merely sought clarity over leadership in the party where interim president Sonia Gandhi, given the health reasons, is not-so-active and her son Rahul, who quit the party's top post after poll drubbing last year, continues to call the shots and sets agenda for the party with over 100 years of history.
For the party that claims to be the champion of internal democracy, a discussion on the leadership would surely have helped, more so, when the party is facing infightings in a few states it managed to grab power in after a series of defeats last year.
As the party's top decision-making body met on Monday morning, Sonia Gandhi made an announcement that she "wants to be relieved" of the post of interim Congress president and urged her colleagues to start looking for a replacement. Deja Vu? Yes, Sonia Gandhi did repeat the 1999. The same stage was set in that year when three top Congress leaders, Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar had protested her projection as Prime Ministerial candidate owing to her foreign origin. The Congress president had famously walked into the CWC meeting on May 17, 1999 and tendered her resignation over the protest. What followed was a resignation spree of Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh, Sheila Dikshit, Ashok Gehlot apart from a pan-India agitation against her decision to step down. A week later, Sonia Gandhi withdrew her resignation and the three dissenters were expelled for six years.
This time was a bit subtle. The hints were out a day before the meeting that Sonia Gandhi has expressed her desire to quit as the party president after an explosive letter written by 23 top leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and others, calling for sweeping reforms and "a full-time, visible leadership".
Stepping into the meeting, Sonia Gandhi formally announced her intention of not continuing as the party president. This followed the pleas by likes of Manmohan Singh and AK Antony and others requesting Gandhi to 'rethink' her decision and Rahul Gandhi questioning the timing of the letter, and the other loyalists the intention of the dissenters. Some, seeking action against the letter-writers, even suggested that the dissenters' move was in "cahoots with the BJP", the charge vehemently rejected by the Congress veterans, who reportedly said they had fought the BJP all their lives and were Nehruvians and that they may disagree on issues but their intent can't be questioned.
Reports that Rahul Gandhi also accused the letter writers of "colluding with the BJP" led to a massive backlash before the Congress had put out a denial that was visibly staged. Kapil Sibal, who shot off a rare tweet hitting out at Rahul Gandhi, "withdrew" it soon after he was "informed by Rahul Gandhi "personally" that he never said what was attributed to him." Ghulam Nabi Azad, who read out a part of the letter, even offered to quit. However, the 71-year-old Congress veteran was quick to guard Rahul Gandhi and clarified that the resignation offer was in reaction to nothing Gandhi said but to others in the party who were pointing fingers at those who wrote the letter.
The letter-crisis ended with Sonia Gandhi magnanimously 'forgiving' the dissenters and allowing herself to be persuaded to continue, yet again. "I have no ill-will towards those who wrote the letter."
The entire exercise ended with a decision that wasn't much of a surprise. The Gandhis will stay in-charge of the Congress and dissenters must fall in line with the 'leadership'.
The 135-year-old Congress, a symbolic principal Opposition, is far from the reality, still basking under the glory of the Gandhi lineage, comfortably ignoring the loss of Karnataka, the Madhya Pradesh government, Jyotiraditya Scindia defecting to the BJP and the near-exit of Sachin Pilot, and most importantly the simmering discontent among the party ranks. Seems the lack of any coherence in the party's battle against the BJP was not an issue at the meeting and neither was the total lack of communication between the top leadership and regional leaders. It started with the family-run "High Command" and ended with it.