THE CONGRESS leadership comprising Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who enjoys maximum authority even without holding an office in the party, has begun the party’s great ‘Purge’.
On the chopping block are the 23 dissenters who made their ire public and called for party overhaul through the media. It is believed that sidelining of several key Congress leaders who lent their name to the media campaign has the blessings of Rahul Gandhi, who is widely speculated to return as AICC President this year.
The reasoning within the Congress circles is that any meaningful suggestions to strengthen the party could have been discussed with Sonia Gandhi on a one-to-one basis rather than going to the media with their plans.
One of the ‘dissenters’ now facing the ire of the leadership is senior Congress party leader from Himachal Pradesh, whose name is missing from the lists of various party committees set up ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections in the state, due in 2022.
It was a big shock and surprise to Congress leaders and workers in the state when a news was flashed by national media about the exclusion of former union minister Anand Sharma, a dissenter, by Sonia Gandhi from important committees like the Political Affairs Committee and Coordination Committee.
The Congress high command has excluded Sharma, a senior leader and member of G23 in the new committees formed to ensure better coordination in its Himachal Pradesh unit which is bad news for his supporters in the state.
On the expected lines, the dissenters are being sidelined gradually by high command for writing a letter which stressed the need of comprehensive elections for party structures and need of having an effective leadership which was not a crime.
But what could have irked Gandhis, must be a wide publicity given in media which had sent a wrong signal and high command was reportedly very upset over such tactics adopted by these leaders who could have personally met Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi to suggest the changes in view of their close links of decades with the family?
Analysts say that it was an indirect attack on the leadership of Rahul Gandhi though dissenters deny it.
The stern action against Anand Sharma comes after two days which preceded a crucial meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi with some of these leaders and broke the ice by starting dialogue to quell the dissidence.
Congress high command had excluded some of senior leaders from important committees which were formed for better coordination in Uttar Pradesh and it was considered as a precursor to an identical action against other dissenters.
Sixty-seven-year-old Sharma, is currently deputy leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha and former union minister, commerce and industry, who was so close to Gandhis that he was sworn in as union minister in UPA2 prior to octogenarian leader, Virbhadra Singh and got an important portfolio as compared to Ex-CM.
Anand has been primarily Delhi based politician who was nominated and renominated to Rajya Sabha as he could neither win assembly election nor succeeded in becoming mass base leader in Himachal.
The party announced the formation of the Political Affairs Committee (Election Strategy Committee) for Himachal Pradesh Congress which includes all prominent leaders from the state, except Sharma. Surprisingly, Anand is also missing from another important state coordination committee, which includes senior state leaders of Congress party.
Political observers opine that Anand had played a crucial in the appointment of state PCC Chief, Kuldeep Rathore owing to his close association with Sonia Gandhi though PCC Chief had later switched over the side as well as loyalty and openly sought blessings of Ex-CM, Virbhadra Singh to ensure his success.
But the politics is the game of uncertainty hence any action against dissenters should not be construed as end of political inning because the fortune and situation can change any time in future.
Analysts believe that if Congress high command continues its carrot and stick policy to teach lesson to dissenters like Anand Sahrma and his group in Himacahl comprising of Ex PCC Chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, MLAs like Lakhvinder Rana, Satpal Raizada, Rajesh Dhrmani, Ex MLA, Harbajan Singh Bhajji (who got ticket from Shimla assembly segment due to last intervention by Anand as VB Singh was supporting Harish Janartha though Bhajji lost his deposit) etc. will be affected as they will have to look for another mentor to survive in state politics.
On the contrary, Virbhadra loyalists may maintain status quo though their leader may not much forceful and authoritative in future due to health and age factor which had been visible during previous assembly polls in 2017.
In this situation, the high command will have to opt for grooming a young leadership in the state. Singh’s loyalists list is big one and currently CLP leader, Mukesh Agnihotri is considered very close to Ex CM who had brought him into politics.
Agnihotri is carrying every MLA with him in Assembly to put the Jai Ram government on the mat on various pro-people issues which has been acknowledged even by high command too.
Rathore’s change of loyalty from Anand faction to VB Singh group will not affect the position of Agnihotri who enjoys full confidence of Ex CM.
It was a test of the management skill of new state party Affairs- in-charge, Rajiv Shukla, who has tried to balance these committees by recommending to high command to accommodate all senior leaders of different factions in the organisation.
Shukla had toured several districts to gauge the mood of the workers who favoured unity to snatch the power from BJP in 2022 assembly polls. He listened to those leaders and workers who were critical of senior factional leaders, which was aimed at knowing the truth and it might have helped him to chalk out the future strategy.
The purge was earlier witnessed when Congress had announced seven committees for the state of Uttar Pradesh in Sept, 2019 but left out key party leaders who had criticized functioning of organization.
The announcement had come well ahead of the elections in the key Hindi heartland state, scheduled to be held in 2022 which is crucial for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra who is slated to take command of election strategy.
Leaders such as Jitin Prasada and Raj Babbar, who were signatories to a letter to Sonia for a re-haul of the organization, have failed to find a place in the new committees. Former Union Minister, RPN Singh is another senior leader who did not found a berth in any of the committees.
On the other hand, those who denounced the letter writers in the “Group of 23” like Nirmal Khatri and Naseeb Pathan have found places in the panels.
Senior leaders were sidelined despite Sonia’s call for unity shortly after they criticised the party’s manner of working.
During a Congress Working Committee meeting on 24 August, Sonia appeared to have taken an accommodative approach in dealing with the dissenting voices, as she said, “We are a large family. We have differences and different views on many occasions…I hold no ill-will for any party member. Keep the party together.”
The committees that were announced in view of the Uttar Pradesh elections comprised of the manifesto committee, outreach committee, membership committee, programme implementation committee, training and cadre development committee, Panchayati Raj election committee and media and communication advisory committee.
Dissenting voices in the party came to fore in August, 2019 when twenty-three senior Congress leaders, including Chief Ministers, sitting MPs and former Union Ministers, had written to interim party Chief Sonia Gandhi calling for sweeping changes in the organization. The letter had called for full time and effective leadership, visible and active in the field, elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and an “institutional leadership mechanism” aimed at the party’s revival.
AICC Incharge, Rajiv Shukla, however, tried to underplay the exclusion of former union minister and emphasized that it had not been done intentionally as he is a national leader and his guidance on important, matters are always sought by the party. Shukla made it clear that Sharma is in AICC committees and these committees constituted are primarily meant for state level issues.
Political observers opine that senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad’s term to Rajya Sabha is ending on Feb 15, 2021 and all eyes are fixed on his re-nomination especially in view of being signatory to the controversial letter.
Observers feel that Azad is a big Muslim face in Congress hence high command will have to think before sending him to political isolation and oblivion. But the trend shows that Congress high command is not showing any leniency hence sidelining dissenters one by one and Azad may fall in this category.
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