Azad meets Sonia, says no questions over Congress chief

TWO DAYS after the G-23 dissident group in the Congress openly asked the party to adopt a model of “collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels” and projected it as the “only way forward”, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday met Ghulam Nabi Azad to defuse the crisis.

Azad later said Sonia’s place at the helm has not been questioned.

During the hour-long meeting, Azad is learnt to have put forward a set of proposals calling for elections to the Congress Working Committee, making the Central Election Committee an elected body and reviving the defunct Parliamentary Board to ensure that decision-making is collective.

This was the second meeting between the Gandhi family and the G-23 leadership. On Thursday, Rahul Gandhi met former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The leadership had opened a channel of communication with the G-23 earlier this week with Sonia speaking to Azad over phone.

Azad told reporters after the latest meeting that the post of Congress president is “not vacant” now and that the CWC, of which he is a member, had decided to hold elections for the post of AICC president in August-September.

Asked whether the G 23 was dropping the leadership change demand, he said: “…it was decided already in the Working Committee that she should continue. That is not the issue. Nobody has said that Mrs Gandhi should just quit. Let me tell you very clearly. That we decided in the Working Committee.”

Asked about Friday’s meeting, he said: “Mrs Gandhi keeps meeting leaders to discuss the organisation and how to strengthen it…how to strengthen the Congress party. Wherever we have lost, what are the reasons for our defeat…I will say the discussion was about how to prepare for the forthcoming assembly elections unitedly, how to unite the Congress to take on our opponents. In some places there are national parties, some places regional parties…how to strengthen the Congress to face those challenges.”

Earlier this week, Kapil Sibal, one of the G-23 leaders, had suggested in an interview to The Indian Express that the Gandhis should step aside from leadership roles and give somebody else a chance.

The group, however, has collectively taken a nuanced position on this issue, knowing that the Gandhis command overwhelming support in the party. It believes that a maximalist position may not have many takers and lead to their isolation. Instead, the dissidents believe the group should look for incremental gains. On Wednesday, the leaders had said: “We believe that the only way forward is for the Congress party to adopt the model of collective and inclusive leadership and decision-making at all levels.”

On Friday, asked about Sibal’s remarks, Azad said: “…there is no question over leadership. When Mrs Gandhi offered (to step down) we all requested her to continue. Since party elections are to take place, we will talk about it then. Elections are not taking place now. It will take place in a few months. That time, the workers will decide who will be president and who will not. The post of party president is not vacant now. When Mrs Gandhi offered in the Working Committee (to quit), we all — whichever group they belong to, whatever be their thinking — everyone asked her to continue…we don’t have a problem…but there are some suggestions to better the organisation.”

While most of the G-23 accept Sonia’s leadership, they are unhappy that the party president is letting Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra take, what they call, unilateral decisions. The leaders have cited Rahul’s announcement of Charanjit Singh Channi as the Congress’s chief ministerial face in Punjab and Priyanka’s decision to earmark 40 per cent of tickets for women in Uttar Pradesh as the latest instances of such decisions.

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