Reaching out to allies, rebels, Sonia turns a new page for the revival of Congress

Although Gandhi has been relatively more active in parliament in recent weeks than in the previous decade, she has also been more involved in the internal affairs of her organization.

On the same day she met Stalin, Gandhi also made a Zero Hour intervention in the Lok Sabha on the issue of reducing the budget allocation for MG-NREGA.

On March 31, as he arrived at the DMK office in Parliament, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, MP Stalin, had an unexpected visitor waiting to greet him. “I just came to say vanakkam,” Acting Congresswoman Sonia Gandhi told Stalin as she entered.

Gandhi’s impromptu appeal to Stalin, especially when she was due to meet him anyway on April 2 at the inauguration of the DMK’s new office on Delhi’s Rouse Avenue, challenged his public image as a leader that d other politicians, whatever their station, seek an audience with.

It would, however, be naive to assume that Gandhi’s atypical gesture was stripped of all political symbolism. As someone whose political journey has often been guided by the constraints of necessity rather than his own will, Gandhi knows the importance of such gestures.


Gandhi’s “casual” meeting with Stalin was not the only time in recent weeks that left politicians and political observers a bit taken aback.

As his party’s electoral decline mounts in recently concluded Assembly polls and his family’s apparent role in accelerating the atrophy of the Grand Old Party comes under heavy criticism from Inside and outside the Congress organization, Gandhi’s recent maneuvers have visibly contradicted his generally accepted standard operating procedure.

make a point

On the same day that she met Stalin, Gandhi also made a Zero Hour intervention in the Lok Sabha on the issue of reduction in budget allocation for MG-NREGA and delays in payment of salaries of those employed under it. of this flagship program of the former UPA government. This was Gandhi’s third mention of zero hour during the current session of Parliament.

Over the previous two weeks, Gandhi had urged the Center to “end the systematic interference by Facebook and other social media giants in the electoral politics of the world’s largest democracy” and also asked the Center, by another mention Zero Hour, to resume the midday meal program, which had been interrupted during the COVID pandemic.

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While parliamentarians are expected to regularly raise issues of public importance during sessions of parliament, Gandhi, as is common knowledge, rarely speaks in the Lok Sabha. In fact, Rae Bareli’s five-term MP has spoken to the Lok Sabha four times since the constitution of the new House after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Poor health may have prevented her from attending Lok Sabha debates for the past two years of the COVID pandemic, but her previous parliamentary record followed a similar pattern. Between 2014 and 2019, although Gandhi’s attendance at the Lok Sabha was better than it has been since 2019, she rarely spoke at the debates and made barely five suo motu interventions.

A memory from 1998

Those who have worked closely with the Congresswoman over the 24 years of her political journey say this atypical incarnation of Gandhi – more visible, more vocal and more social – recalls his form in the months and years that followed. his political plunge in 1998.

“The party’s current situation is undoubtedly the worst in the 137-year history of Congress, but in many ways the fundamental problems are the same as in 1998, when she took over the party’s first presidency. times. She already has a rebirth plan that she can review and modify based on current circumstances as well as the personal limitations of her poor health. What we have seen since the CWC meeting (convened on March 13 after the recent losses in the polls) is Sonia Gandhi of the 1998 vintage. She reaches out to dissidents as well as allies and takes on the government in her own way,” a CWC member, who is a close associate of the Congressional matriarch since 1998.

While Gandhi has been relatively more active in parliament in recent weeks than in the previous decade, she has also, according to congressional sources, been more involved in the internal affairs of her organization.

At the March 13 CWC meeting, Gandhi forestalled outspoken criticism of his handling of congressional affairs. Initially, she informed the CWC that if the party believed that her family – she, former party leader Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra – were responsible for the unfettered decline of Congress, then ” we are ready to make any sacrifice”. . The well-known offer to relinquish the party leadership was unanimously rejected by the CWC.

Handling G-23

Meanwhile, top leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Kapil Sibal and others, who have demanded radical organizational overhaul and “visible, effective, full-time leadership” since more than 19 months now, continued to hold parallel talks.

Within Congress, it was known from the start that the real target of such periodic attacks by the so-called G-23 leaders was not the acting party leader but Rahul Gandhi.

The G-23 believe Rahul is running party affairs despite holding no official position since stepping down as party leader after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll debacle. More importantly, they also believe that their own diminished circumstances within the party – denial of party posts or appointments to Rajya Sabha – were due to Rahul preferring a new coterie. After the recent rout, Priyanka Gandhi had also become the target of these attacks.

Having braved and survived a good deal of attack from party colleagues during her early days as Congresswoman and, perhaps, realizing that the greatly diminished state of her party today would not afford her the luxury From an all-out confrontation with former loyalists, Sonia Gandhi, party insiders say, took a conciliatory approach.

“She contacted Azad when he was busy hosting other G-23 leaders and arranging resignations of confidants in his home state of Congress. Rahul was also advised to speak with Bhupinder Hooda (who not only accepted the olive branch, but also agreed to act as the family’s emissary to other G-23 leaders),” said a former congressman and loyalist to the Gandhi family at the Federal.

“Later, she also had discussions with Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha and Shashi Tharoor to hear their grievances…between 1998 and 2004, she also reached out to critics within the party; only when she had no options did she act against a ruler as we saw when Sharad Pawar, PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar were expelled for questioning his foreign origin, but even in such cases she always kept an open line, that’s how NCP became our ally despite Pawar’s personal attack on her,” the former CM said.

Sonia’s strength

Although party sources admit that most organizational matters still go through Rahul Gandhi, the Congress leader has made herself more accessible to colleagues who insist on bringing their grievances to her rather than her son or daughter. girl.

She also spoke personally with the leaders of the five states where Congress faced a poll earlier this month and encouraged them to be “absolutely candid” in their assessment of the party’s shortcomings.

Some G-23 members believe Gandhi’s recent actions are driven more by “self-interest” than a genuine desire to apply corrective action, but even they admit that as long as she keeps the lines of communication open, ” there may be some hope.”

“Mrs. Gandhi’s greatest strength has always been her ability to bring everyone along. Rahul lacked this, which is why his arbitrary and thoughtless changes in the organization had disastrous consequences. said a member of the G-23.

However, he also added that Gandhi’s “real test” will come in August this year, when the election of a full-time President of Congress is scheduled.

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“If what Mrs. Gandhi is doing today is only to wait for the election of the CP and to contain dissent until then, she is only delaying the inevitable. It is in his interest and that of the party to ensure a smooth transition and to use the present to build a strong mechanism for intra-party dialogue, collective leadership and accountability in the future,” he said. -he adds.

A Congress veteran who in the not so distant past was among Gandhi’s main interlocutors with existing and potential allies, believes that, as in the 1998-2004 period, his current challenges include revitalizing the party and simultaneously returning of Congress as the pole center of the anti-BJP camp.

“Ten years ago no one would have imagined Sonia Gandhi arriving unannounced to simply say hello to the leader of an alliance partner…such courtesies were extended by her aides. Of course, she realizes that our allies no longer see Congress as key partners, even at the national level. Today, every regional party that wins an election against the BJP, be it Trinamool, AAP or TRS, thinks they can lead an anti-BJP front because in the bipolar fights we give 90% of the seats to the BJP “said the chief.

“Our ties with allies like RJD, DMK, Shiv Sena are under strain and if we don’t start winning again, those parties won’t respect us. Today she must have gone to meet Stalin. Tomorrow, she may have to call on Mamata Banerjee or Arvind Kejriwal; personally they can show him a lot of respect, but that won’t extend to our party until we get back to a winning streak,” the party veteran said.

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