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Rahul Gandhi as Congress President again? Party looks split down the middle

From Devsagar Singh

New Delhi, Dec 21:The five-hour meeting Sonia Gandhi held with senior Congress leaders, including dissenters, last Saturday has touched off speculation that the party may split down the middle on the issue of Rahul Gandhi becoming Congress President again. While the old guard, including Dr. Manmohan Singh, A.K.Antony and P.Chidambaram, among others, want Rahul Gandhi back as party chief as an undisputed leader, the group of 23 who wrote to Sonia Gandhi calling for the restructuring of the party is pushing for an open election for the post to elect a 24×7 President who is always available for consultations.

Without making it explicit, the group of dissenters has made it clear that Rahul Gandhi is no longer the unanimous choice. Hours before the Saturday meeting, party spokesman and general secretary Randip Singh Surjewala declared that Rahul Gandhi was the undisputed choice for the party President’s post of 99.99 per cent of Congress workers and leaders, giving clear hint that there was no chance of any compromise over the matter.

The group of 23 consisting, among others, of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Kapil Sibal, and Shashi Tharoor, are now said to be seeking to involve UPA partners to make a case against Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. Senior NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s recent statement that Rahul Gandhi is not consistent is being seen in that light. It is also being alleged that a nebulous proposal to make Pawar leader of the UPA was a trial balloon by the dissenters. Pawar himself denied the speculation, but the rumblings continue in a section of the Congress leadership loyal to the First Family.

Some of the G-23 leaders are said to privately concede that the onus of restructuring the party lies in Sonia Gandhi who is unwilling to see anybody as Congress President other than son Rahul. Even Priyanka Gandhi is said to be out of her reckoning. The forthcoming election of the party President early next year is, therefore, going to be a crucial indicator as regards the direction the party will take. If Rahul Gandhi is back as President in the upcoming AICC session, it may be the end of the road for several party leaders who have made their anti-Rahul stand obvious.

The dissenters are harping on genuine elections in all party forums, including AICC, CWC, PCCs, and DCCs maintaining that the culture of nominating in these important bodies has rendered the party ineffective. In effect, several of them want to contest these elections and win on the basis of their personal appeal. What is hurting Sonia Gandhi and her staunch loyalists is the fact that several of these dissenters got top positions in the government and the party when in power but are raising their voices against the First Family when the party was out of power. The indication is clearly towards Ghulam Nabi Azad, the senior-most among the dissenters, and Anand Sharma, both of whom enjoyed top positions as ministers or powerful general secretaries.

It is for the first time since the famous 1969 split in the Congress when late Indira Gandhi trounced her adversaries that a situation is arising in the party hinting at a split. In her actions thus far, Sonia has played a peacemaker. Will she react when things begin to get out of hand?

Rahul Gandhi as Congress President/Rahul Gandhi as Congress President/Rahul Gandhi as Congress President

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