Punjab turmoil snowballs into major crisis for Congress

Kapil Sibal, Ghulam Nabi Azad openly challenge leadership of the Gandhis.

The turmoil in its Punjab unit snowballed into a major crisis for the Congress party on Wednesday, with a group of senior leaders openly challenging the leadership of the Gandhi family, and the former Punjab Chief Minister Capt. (Retd.) Amarinder Singh exploring an arrangement with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr. Singh, who was removed as the Chief Minister of Punjab by the party at the instance of the Gandhi siblings, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, met Union Home MInister Amit Shah, although no statement was available from either side.

Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal, part of a group that is demanding elections and reforms in the party, told reporters at a press conference that, “in our party, at the moment, there is no president and one doesn’t know who is taking these decisions”.

His colleague, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is part of the group of 23 letter writers, the ‘G-23’, seeking internal reforms, wrote a fresh letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to convene a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) for a debate on the state of affairs in the party, including the Punjab turmoil and desertions from the party.

Congress workers from Chandni Chowk, the constituency that Mr. Sibal has represented in the Lok Sabha in the past, protested outside his residence, holding placards with “get well soon” messages, even though there was no direct response from the party to the press conference.

Late in the evening, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala sent out a cryptic tweet that “those in power are troubled that a Dalit has been made a CM in Punjab and Amit Shah’s residence has become a centre for anti-Dalit activities”.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Sibal had questioned the decision-making process with, “We know yet we don’t know.”

While Sonia Gandhi is the acting president of the party, many believe that most decisions are being taken by her children. The Gandhi siblings had backed Navjot Singh Sidhu, who campaigned for Mr. Singh’s removal but resigned as State unit president himself on Tuesday, plunging the party into a crisis.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi that “no school of thought can claim a monopoly of right judgement”, Mr. Sibal argued that no monopolies can be created in the power structures of the party, and asserted that the “G-23 is certainly not ji huzoor 23”, an idiomatic expression referring to a yes-man.

The former Law Minister also confirmed that one of his senior colleagues had written a letter to Ms. Gandhi but didn’t name Mr Azad.

“Some things we cannot say in public. At least a dialogue can take place in the CWC as to why we are in this state. We are the ones who can fight the BJP, and let me assure you that we are not one of those who is going to leave the ideology of the party,” Mr. Sibal said, adding, “Ironically, people close to them [the Gandhis] are leaving the party.”

The reformists or ‘the G-23’, who had written to Ms. Gandhi seeking internal party reforms in August 2020, reiterated their demand for an elected CWC, Central Election Committee, and a full-time elected president.

“If somebody has an issue, that is to be discussed. Consultations must take place from the seniormost members of the party and the organisation structure of the party has to be strengthened…We need an open dialogue, conversations, and need to understand each other’s point of view,” Mr. Sibal said

The former Minister refused to answer whether or not appointing Mr. Sidhu as the Punjab Congress Committee (PCC) chief, and removing Capt. Singh as the Chief Minister, was the right decision.

“I don’t want to talk about Punjab but a border State, and if this happening to the Congress, [it] means it is [an] advantage to the ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] and Pakistan. We know the history of Punjab and the rise of extremism there and how forces across the border try to take advantage of the situation,” he said.

Reacting to Mr. Sibal, Indian Youth Congress president B.V. Srinivas tweeted: “Listen Ji Huzoor. The party’s president and leader is the same who always sent you to Parliament, made you a minister when the p[a]rty had better days. In the Opposition, made you a member of the Rajya Sabha. Always gave you responsibility during good and bad times. Now, when the time has come for struggle, then…”

After Mr. Sidhu’s latest antics in quitting his post as PCC chief, the Gandhis have come under severe criticism as they had overruled a three-member committee, led by Mallikarjun Kharge, to appoint him.

In their report to Ms. Gandhi, the panel had recommended that the cricketer-turned-politician be made the chief of the Congress Campaign Committee for the next year’s Assembly polls and accommodated as a Minister in the Amarinder Singh government.

Soon after Mr. Sibal’s outburst, Congress general secretary Ajay Maken hit back on Wednesday.

Mr. Maken said it was Ms. Sonia Gandhi who had made Mr. Sibal a Union Minister though he “did not have any organisational background and experience”.

“My appeal to Mr. Sibal and others like him is that they should not denigrate the organisation which has given them political identity by rushing to the media every then and now,” Mr. Maken told the PTI.

“Such remarks by leaders like Sibal, who have got everything from the organisation and the leadership, demoralise the party cadres and ordinary workers who continue to stand with the Congress ideology and are fighting the fundamental and fascist forces on the streets,” he said.

(With Inputs from PTI)

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