Congress boss plans talks with Opposition leaders, refuses to quit as UPA chief.

New Delhi: Congress’ interim chief Sonia Gandhi has swung into action to help her son Rahul Gandhi to unite the Opposition. While bringing the Opposition parties together, Sonia Gandhi’s message is clear that any such political front will be led by the Congress itself in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. She is soon going to hold talks with the leaders of different parties in Opposition. The Congress boss may host a lunch and dinner as well.
But the question remains whether the leaders, who recently attended disgruntled Congress leader Kapil Sibal’s dinner, will make it to any such event to be hosted by Sonia Gandhi. Sources say that Congress may defer announcement of a leadership face till the Gujarat polls. However, Sonia Gandhi will make it a point to remind the leaders that she will continue to be the chief of the UPA. In the wake of Mamata Banerjee’s display of her national ambition and Sibal’s dinner diplomacy, Sonia Gandhi is understood to be working on a strategy to lead from the front. As part of this strategy, Sonia Gandhi actively attended the Monsoon session and participated in different meetings.
Sources say ahead of her discussion with Opposition leaders, Sonia Gandhi may make some changes in the organisation in the coming week. Two AICC general secretaries have yet to be appointed. Moreover, posts in several AICC departments are lying vacant. What will be more important to see is whether or not general secretary K.C. Venugopal is removed. A significant faction of the party comprising senior leaders is said to be unhappy with him. These veterans, some of them disgruntled ones, want some Hindi speaking experienced leader to be in place of Venugopal. Venugopal is one of the leaders who are close to Rahul Gandhi. The former Congress president wanted to elevate Venugopal to the post of party chief two years ago. This led to a massive infighting in the Congress, and after intervention by seniors, Sonia Gandhi had to be the interim president of the party.
There is no denying that Rahul Gandhi has not been successful in terms of selecting leaders for one team or the other. One of the examples is MP where the Congress lost not only its government, but also an influential leader Jyotiraditya Scindia. Similarly, there is no end to the ongoing confrontation in the Congress in Rajasthan. The situation came to such a pass that 23 disgruntled leaders came out in open with their grievances. The party had to face defeats in various state elections. The recent decision to hand over Punjab Congress charge to Navjot Singh Sidhu also came in for a sharp criticism. The risk of a split in the Punjab Congress continues to loom due only to the adamant attitude of the high command, according to sources. Challenges grew all the more for Rahul Gandhi after Congress’ miserable performances in Bengal and Kerala.
Leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Uddhav Thackeray are said to be unhappy with the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. These leaders wonder why the Congress’ charge is not being handed over to a new face. According to sources, Mamata Banerjee wants the UPA leadership to be given to Sharad Pawar or some other leader so that the Opposition could pose a “formidable” challenge to the NDA led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024. The key agenda of Sibal’s dinner was also about change of UPA leadership for 2024.
After Mamata Banerjee’s Delhi visit, Rahul Gandhi got active, hinting at how he is ready to be on the front foot in the political sphere. Through his action in Parliament and on the streets, the Gandhi scion tried to send out the message that he is able to lead the opposition. But what added to Sonia Gandhi’s concern was that Opposition leaders stayed away from Rahul Gandhi’s events followed by Sibal’s dinner diplomacy.
With this in view, Sonia Gandhi has decided to hold talks with leaders of various Opposition parties over dinner or lunch. But question is how many of them will make it to such a get-together. There is hardly any possibility of BJD, YSR Congress, Akali Dal, TRS and AAP attending any such meet to be hosted by Sonia Gandhi. Even Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav may avoid attending it. It is clear that the Congress will not invite the BSP.
In fact, Mayawati would also not like to be part of such an exercise. So, Sonia will have a gigantic challenge of showing some respectable strength of leaders in her party. The second challenge for Sonia Gandhi is zero in on a leader to unite all the Opposition parties.
Congress watchers believe that Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former MP CM Kamal Nath are the two faces who could be acceptable to the Opposition for leadership role. But the question is when Sonia Gandhi will take a call. Will she decide now or during the Congress presidential polls after the Gujarat elections? The election for Congress president post is due next November.