A special committee of the Congress formed to assist party chief Sonia Gandhi on operational matters is expected to meet later Tuesday to discuss organisational issues amid rumblings over its dismal show in the Bihar elections.
The six-member panel was formed by Gandhi in August this year as part of the party reshuffle carried out after a group of 23 leaders wrote a letter to her seeking internal elections and organisational overhaul.
The panel comprises AK Antony, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, KC Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala.
The meeting will be held through video-conferencing at 5pm. While Patel is in the intensive care unit of the Medanta hospital in Gurugram after having tested positive for Covid-19, Venugopal, whose mother passed away recently, is likely to join the meeting.
The Congress president and Rahul Gandhi are not attending the meeting. A panel member said Bihar is not on the agenda as the committee is likely to discuss organisational matters and also review the progress on the party’s nationwide signature campaign against the three new farm laws enacted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government recently.
The Congress had launched a two-month-long nationwide agitation against the government over the farm laws from September 24 onwards. The party had also then said that it will collect 20 million signatures from protesting farmers against the legislations to be submitted to President Ram Nath Kovind.
The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, had been passed by both the Houses of Parliament.
It was widely expected that the meeting will discuss the Bihar poll outcome after the Congress’ dismal show triggered a war of words within the party. While senior leader and former union minister Kapil Sibal had asked the leadership if it the Bihar loss was “business as usual”, he was countered by Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot who claimed that his remarks have “hurt the sentiments” of workers and reminding him that the party had been through crisis several times in the past.
The Congress party’s performance has widely been held responsible for the failure of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ to oust the National Democratic Alliance government in the recent assembly elections in Bihar. It has also prompted renewed calls within the party for introspection and course correction.
Sibal, a former union minister and one of the 23 signatories to a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in August this year seeking internal elections and organisational overhaul, questioned the leadership in the wake of the Bihar debacle.
“We are yet to hear on recent polls… Maybe Congress leadership thinks it should be business as usual,” he tweeted.
Sibal further said he was “compelled to speak publicly” as there is “no forum in the party to discuss party issues” and insisted that the Congress needs efficient and senior leaders to manage elections.
Gehlot countered Sibal with a series of tweets and defended the leadership, saying there are various reasons for electoral setbacks and that the Congress will come out stronger from the present crisis as had happened in the past as well.
“There was no need for Mr Kapil Sibal to mention our internal issue in media, this has hurt the sentiments of party workers across the country,” he said. “Congress has seen various crises, including 1969, 1977, 1989 and later in 1996, but every time, we came out stronger due to our ideology, programmes, policies and firm belief in party leadership,” the Rajasthan chief minister added.
The Congress proved to be the weakest link in the ‘mahagathbandhan’, winning just 19 of the 70 seats it contested. While the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won 75 seats and emerged as the single largest party in the 243-assembly, the Left parties bagged 16 of the 29 they fought as part of the Grand Alliance.
“We have improved with each and every crisis and also formed UPA government in 2004 under the able leadership of Soniaji, we shall overcome this time too. There are various reasons for electoral losses. But each time rank and file of the Congress party has shown undivided and firm belief in the party leadership and that is why we came out of it stronger and united after every crises,” Gehlot said.
“Even today, Congress is the only party which can keep this nation united and take it forward on the path of comprehensive development,” he added.
Sibal also came under attack from Youth Congress president Srinivas BV. “When Congress wins elections, Rahulji never gets the credit. And we lose, he is made responsible. I want to ask those who are raising questions today what is their contribution to the party?” he said.