Sonia breaks ice with dissenters


Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 19

Signs of internal bickering in the Congress dimmed on Saturday with party president Sonia Gandhi breaking the ice with the leaders who recently dissented in public and signalling a conclave on the lines of Shimla and Pachmarhi to strengthen the organisation and address ideological issues.

“We are all one big family and will together strengthen the party. We will meet more often and have more conversations,” Sonia told a group of 19 leaders, including her loyalists and seven dissenters who wrote to her this August seeking organisational overhaul.

Five-hour meeting

We are all one big family and will together strengthen the party. We will meet more often & have more conversations. —Sonia Gandhi, Cong Prez

At the discussion lasting five hours, Gandhi associates AK Antony, Ashok Gehlot, Pawan Bansal, Ajay Maken and BS Hooda urged Rahul Gandhi to lead the Congress from the front, to which the latter said: “I am ready to take over any responsibility the party gives me.” With this, Rahul shed his long-held position about a non-Gandhi becoming the Congress chief. He, however, added, “This issue should be left to the internal electoral process which is underway.”

No dissidence: Bansal

There is no dissidence in the party. Everyone gave suggestions on strengthening the party. —Pawan Bansal, AICC Treasurer

The meeting, sources said, was cordial and principally shaped as “an icebreaker” between Sonia and the rebels whom she had denied a physical interface for four months since they wrote to her in August. The dissenters articulated the suggestions they had earlier flagged in their letter to Sonia Gandhi.

All of them spoke, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and Vivek Tankha, and said their intention was to “strengthen the Congress to take on the BJP”.

Sonia assured dissenters of a continuum of dialogue and meetings to resolve their concerns, with Azad urging for “honesty and integrity in the resolution process”.

Pawan Bansal, treasurer, All India Congress Committee, later said, “There is no dissidence in the party. Everyone gave suggestions on strengthening the organisation to fight the BJP, which is undermining the idea of India.” Chavan, one of the letter writers, said, “This was the first of the many meetings that will be held to address issues being raised by leaders. A chintan shivir will also be held.”

It’s learnt that Sonia told the gathering she would call a conclave like the ones held in Shimla and Panchmarhi as soon as Covid abated. The suggestion on the conclave, sources said, came from Manish Tewari.

Prominent absentees from the meeting were Kapil Sibal, KC Venugopal and Randeep Surjewala. Priyanka Vadra was in attendance, along with Ambika Soni, P Chidambaram and Kamal Nath.



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