Three days after a fiery party meeting, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi late on August 27 announced a new set of parliamentary party appointments that are being read as a snub to dissenting letters-writers who had called for sweeping changes.
Gandhi appointed two-term MP Gaurav Gogoi as deputy to legislature party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary in the Lok Sabha. Ludhiana MP Ranveet Singh Bittu was named a whip.
The appointments, many feel, overlooks Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari, one of the 23 leaders who sent the letter calling for “full-time, visible leadership” and an overhaul of the way party functioned.
The letter was addressed to Sonia Gandhi who took over as the interim president last year after son Rahul quit as the Congress chief, taking responsibility of the party’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha election.
“Two of the best voices in Indian Parliament are from the Congress: Dr Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari. They represent Kerala ( 15 LS seats) and Punjab ( 8 LS seats ). They represent 44 % of INC in LS. West Bengal has 1, Assam 2. Fair representation? Just saying!” suspended Congress leader Sanjay Jha tweeted on August 28.
A former information and broadcasting minister, Tewari is a two-term MP and a senior party leader. In 2014, Bittu had replaced Tewari as the party’s Ludhiana candidate.
Tewari should have been the deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, a party leader who did not wish to be named said. Three-time member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, among the 23 writers, was being sidelined as well, the leader added.
In the Rajya Sabha, All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal made it into a new five-member decision-making panel. Venugopal and Gogoi are known to be close to Rahul Gandhi.
The other members of the panel are Jairam Ramesh, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and party’s deputy leader Anand Sharma. Azad and Sharma was among the letter writers. Ramesh is a former minister and was not part of the dissident group.
The announcements came on a day senior leader Kapil Sibal, one of the 23, criticised the party for targeting Jitin Prasada, a former minister.
"Unfortunate that Jitin Prasada is being officially targeted in UP. Congress needs to target the BJP with surgical strikes instead (of) wasting its energy by targeting its own,” Sibal tweeted on August 27. Tewari endorsed the tweet.
The Congress’ committee in Lakhimpuri Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh passed a resolution against Prasada for signing the letter. Prasada has represented Dhaurahra, which is part of Lakhimpur Kheri, in the Lok Sabha twice.
In an interview to a newspaper the same day, Sibal said the Congress was at its “historic low” and needed a leader who was available round-the-clock.
Azad, too, remained critical of the party and stressed on electing, rather than appointing, the next Congress president. “If my party wants to be in opposition for the next 50 years, then there is no need for elections within the party,” Azad told news agency ANI
Already weakened by desertions and electoral losses under the watch of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, the Congress is a shell of its former self as elections in Bihar and other states near.
The letter prompted Sonia Gandhi to offer to step down but the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision making body of the party, decided on August 24 that she would continue as the interim president.
After the meeting, she was quoted as saying that the party, like a family, comes together as one, despite differences among its members.
“I’ve been silent for four days on recent events in the Congress because once the Congress President says the issue is behind us, it is the duty of all of us to work together constructively in the interests of the Party. I urge all my colleagues to uphold this principle & end the debate,” Tharoor, tweeted on August 27