The ongoing Punjab crisis and the recent high-profile exits from the Congress prompted its Group of 23 (the group that wrote to Sonia Gandhi demanding sweeping changes in the party structure) to once again express concern over what they called was the continuing drift in the party.
Underlining that the Congress needed to ask itself why leaders were leaving it, senior party leader Kapil Sibal said Wednesday: “In our party, at the moment, there is no president, so we don’t know who is taking these decisions. We know and yet we don’t know.”
Sibal’s press conference followed a letter to Sonia Gandhi by a fellow member of the Group of 23, Ghulam Nabi Azad. Both Azad and Sibal again demanded elections to the post of the party president and a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Sibal pointed out that those whom the Gandhi family considered close had deserted them, unlike the G-23 leaders who were still with them, though not as “yes-men”. Sources said some of the G-23 leaders had met at Azad’s house Wednesday morning where it was decided that he should write to Gandhi expressing their major concerns.
In the evening, there were protests outside Sibal’s house by Congress workers shouting slogans of “Gaddaron, party chhoro (traitors leave the party)”.
Delhi Congress chief Anil Chaudhary said they were workers from Sibal’s old constituency of Chandni Chowk, adding that while he didn’t agree with Sibal’s remarks, he condemned such protests.
Several other leaders, including Ajay Maken, issued statements criticising Sibal.
At the press conference, Sibal said he was standing with a “very heavy heart” and “I cannot see my party in the situation that it is today. It breaks my heart”. Saying the happenings in Punjab would be to “the advantage to the ISI and Pakistan”, he said the crisis was not the doing of the G-23 leaders. “It is not happening because of us.”
Without mentioning the Gandhis, Sibal talked about the defections of Luizinho Faleiro in Goa, Sushmita Dev in Assam, Jyotiradtiya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh and Lalitesh Tripathi in Uttar Pradesh, among others, and said: “It’s ironic that those who were their khasam-khaas (special ones), they left them. And those people who they believed are not their special ones, they are standing with them today.”
He added, “One thing is clear, we are not Ji Huzoor 23… We will put forward our points, and will continue to do so. And we will repeat our demands.”
Reiterating what Azad wrote in his letter, Sibal said the party is awaiting decisions in respect to election to the office of the Congress president, CWC and the central election committee. A day earlier, another G-23 leader, Manish Tewari, had taken a dig at the induction into the Congress of former JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar.
Sibal quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say that no group of people have a monopoly on right judgment, and said: “Democracy cannot be worked by 20 men sitting at the centre.” Asking the party leadership to “listen to our point of view” even if it didn’t agree, he said, “Allow us that dialogue… No monopolies should be created in the power structures of any country, nor in the power structures of any party”.
He said that while there was no immediate reason for him to speak out, “For such a long time, we are waiting, and there is a limit to waiting. We are among those who will stand with the Congress, and will always stand with it. We have never given any statement against the Congress, and are not doing so even today.”
Sibal said he even wanted to urge those Congressman who had left, to return. The Congress, he said, was the only party that could save the Republic, and that the country needed a strong Opposition.
Maken, who has been involved in the recent decisions taken in the Punjab Congress, told PTI that leaders like Sibal were demoralising party cadres and should not “denigrate the organisation which has given them political identity”. Rejecting Sibal’s contention that the Congress had no regular president, he said Gandhi continues to lead the party. “The meetings of the CWC and that of party general secretaries have been held at least half-a-dozen times in the last few months… where everyone has been given full opportunity to air their views,” the former Union minister said.
On the sloganeering outside Sibal’s house, Delhi Congress chief Chaudhary said: “The protest is not justified and I condemn the behaviour. However as a party leader, I would like to say that what Sibal ji said about the party was also not correct.”
Without mentioning Sibal, Indian Youth Congress national president Srinivas B V used the word “Ji Huzoor” and tweeted: “The ‘President’ and ‘Leadership’ of the party are the same, who always took you to Parliament, made you a ‘minister’ during the good times of the party. When in opposition, sent you to Rajya Sabha, rewarded with responsibilities”. —With inputs from Ashtha Saxena