Fissures in Cong: 1st public show of strength in Jammu by rebels

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 3/1/2021 12:41:20 PM

NEW DELHI, Feb 27: Fissures in the Congress widened on Saturday as the party's rebel leaders came out in open under the stewardship of party veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, who turns 72 next Saturday, challenging the party leadership in the first-ever public show of strength in Jammu, six months after the Group of 23 senior leaders wrote to Sonia Gandhi for organisational reforms to save the party from disintegration.
They blew up their anger at the leadership doing nothing despite their warning letter in August on a day when former Congress President Rahul Gandhi, tipped to head the party soon, was busy campaigning in Tamil Nadu.
At an event titled "Shanti Sammelan" to connect with the party cadres on the ground, senior Congress leader and former union minister Kapil Sibal (72) questioned the party leadership letting Azad retire from the Rajya Sabha early this month instead of using his experience better at a time when the Congress is "getting weak." He was a part of the Group of 23 (G-23) who had openly questioned Rahul Gandhi's style of functioning.
Senior party leader and spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi (62), when forced to speak on the development at a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, lamented that some leaders had created a "tamasha" of the party at a time when they should have strengthened the party by jumping into the campaign in the five states and Union Territories going to the polls.
He, however, refused to comment on the rebels, saying that "they are all respected senior leaders of the Congress and an inseparable part of the Congress family who we all respect." He went on to add that the Congress is proud of Azad's tenure in Parliament for seven terms.
In an indirect dig at Sibal, Singhvi said those who wanted the party to utilise the services of Azad are not aware of the history that Sonia Gandhi had made him the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and utilised his services sometimes as a union minister and sometimes as an AICC general secretary.
The rebel leaders, who included Anand Sharma, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former union minister and MP Manish Tewari, Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha and former UP Congress President Raj Babbar, raised the internal issues of the Congress and shared their views on why the party became weak in the past decade.
Azad, who is known for his balancing act, be it in Congress or Parliament, was careful in not making any aggressive posture unlike other leaders on the stage. Instead, he focused on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir under the Modi government.
“Be it Jammu or Kashmir or Ladakh, we respect all religions, people, and castes. We equally respect all religions, people and castes. We equally respect everyone. That is our strength and we will continue with this," Azad said adding that the Congress has been persistently raising the questions over "unemployment, stripping of the statehood of J&K, finishing off industries and education in J&K over the past 5-6 years."
The most vocal was Sibal, who is also a senior advocate. He said Azad is "one such leader who knows the ground reality of Congress in every district of every state. We were saddened when he was being relieved from Parliament. We didn't want him to go......I can't understand why the Congress is not using his experience."
Without mincing words, he said: "We have gathered here to do something to stop the Congress party get weaker and weaker. We had gathered together earlier too and our primary goal is to strengthen the party together."
Anand Sharma (68), a former union minister and currently deputy leader of Congress in the Rajya Sabha, mounted an indirect attack on Rahul Gandhi. "All of us have covered a very long distance to reach where we are today. Nobody among us has come through the window, all of us have walked through the door. We have come through the students' movement, the youth movement."
"Congress has weakened in the last decade. Our voice is for the betterment of the party. It should be strengthened everywhere once again. New generation should connect (to party). We've seen good days of Congress. We don't want to see it weakening as we become older," Sharma said.
He did not spare Rahul either for his recent "North-South" remark. He said: "Congress never believes in dividing the country on region or religion. Rahul Gandhi made certain observations, perhaps out of his personal experience, but he shall have to clarify in what context he made such a serious observation so that there is no conjecture or misunderstanding." Sibal too joined him, stressing that Rahul must explain in what context he had made the statement since it is the BJP which has been continuously dividing the country.
The Jammu event is a show of solidarity by G-23 camp with Azad to raise a banner of revolt against the "Team Rahul Gandhi" and insist on elections at all level, including that of the national president, instead of the culture of nominations perpetrated by the Gandhis over the years.
Raj Babbar said their group should not be called G-23 but Gandhi-23. "With the belief, resolve and thinking of Mahatma Gandhi, this nation's law and Constitution was formed. Congress is standing strongly to take them forward. Our group wants the Congress to be strong," he said.



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