Days after Bihar poll debacle and Kapil Sibal’s comments on Congress’ decline, party president Sonia Gandhi is on a fire fighting mode. The interim party chief has included four Congressmen, who have been vocally critical of the party of late, in three committees set up to keep her updated on issues concerning national security, foreign affairs and the economy.
Three days back, Sibal gave an interview to the Indian Express, taking a critical position on Congress’ repeated failures in poll after poll. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior leader Salman Khurshid both hit back at Sibal. In August, 23 leaders had written a joint letter, challenging the Gandhi family’s control over the Grand old party of India.
Sonia’s recent appointments are seen as a way to placate the “dissenters” and avoid public embarrassment.
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who supported Sibal’s views, is on the committee on economic affairs. The second committee (on foreign affairs) has both Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor, and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Veerappa Moily have been named to the third.
Chidambaram had spoken about the party’s diminishing on-ground presence in the backdrop of Bihar election and bypolls in other states. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a member of all three committees.
The formation of the three committees (national security, foreign affairs and the economy) was also necessitated due to differences among top leaders on the party’s stand on RCEP (regional comprehensive economic partnership) – a free trade deal promoted by China. India has opted out of RCEP.
Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal were among the 23 Congress leaders behind August’s ‘dissent letter’, which caused a lot of drama in the Congress camp, but achieved little by way of actual changes. The letter had called for sweeping reforms within the party that has had Sonia Gandhi as “interim” chief since Rahul Gandhi resigned after last year’s Lok Sabha poll debacle. Sonia Gandhi had offered to resign, but was persuaded to remain as interim chief.
A committee was set up to examine the dissenting leaders’ grievances, but Sibal was not satisfied with the progress made by the committee. “Since there has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for a dialogue by the leadership and since there is no forum to express my views, I am constrained to express them publicly,” Sibal told the Indian Express on Monday.