Dissent in Congress: More Jammu-like G23 meets lined up, party wary of taking action

Express News Service
NEW DELHI:  The group of 23 (G23) dissenters in the Congress is planning to raise their pitch against the high command by organising a series of meetings in other states on the lines of the one they held in Jammu recently. 

With four states and a Union Territory set to face Assembly elections soon, the party leadership is treading cautiously even as the G23 seeks to fan out in Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the coming weeks. 

“These meetings will be held before the party’s presidential election, which is scheduled by May-end. Anand Sharma has been asked to arrange one meeting in Himachal Pradesh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Kurukshetra and Manish Tewari in Ropar or Anandpur Sahib,” said sources, adding that Hooda’s event may spell trouble for the party as he enjoys mass support in Haryana. 

The party leadership is wary of taking any precipitate action against the rebels ahead of the crucial election.

“The build-up by these leaders will fizzle out soon. Taking any disciplinary action at this moment (ahead of Assembly elections) will send a wrong signal to people and draw unnecessary attention. If the party does well in the Assembly election under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, it will automatically subdue the momentum these leaders are trying to build up before the presidential election,” said a party leader. 

At the Jammu meeting, the dissenters had said that the Congress was getting weaker and they were working to strengthen it.

The party has refrained from making any harsh comments and instead urged them to work for strengthening the Congress ahead of the Assembly elections. 

As it is, the G23 has already weakened as some members are unhappy over a few of them articulating their misgivings in public.

Ghulam Nabi Azad’s praise of Modi and  Anand Sharma’s critique of the Left-Congress alliance in Bengal coopting the new Indian Secular Front floated by Abbas Siddique are the latest flashpoints.

Meanwhile, the party on Tuesday asserted that its alliance in Bengal is a “secular front” formed to fight the BJP and urged everyone in the party to join it unconditionally, in an apparent snub to its senior leader Anand Sharma who had criticized the tie-up with the Indian Secular Front (ISF).

Sharma had on Monday slammed the party’s alliance with the ISF of Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui, saying it was against the “Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism” which forms the Congress’ soul and the party cannot be selective in fighting the “communalists”.

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Asked about Sharma’s criticism, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi attacked the BJP, alleging it was creating “false propaganda” by dubbing its political opponents as communal and claiming itself to be secular.

“The whole idea is this larger front in Bengal was to create as far as possible a good political fight against BJP’s particularly vitiated brand of politics and therefore each one us, each one of my senior, respected and valued colleagues, should join wholeheartedly and unconditionally in that fight together to combat this false propaganda of the BJP,” he told reporters.

He said one of the parties of that front – the CPM – has decided to give seats out of its quota to ISF.

Sharma had on Monday sought clarification from West Bengal PCC chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for sharing the stage with the ISF leader at a rally in Kolkata.

The former union minister and a leader of the group of 23 which had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi demanding organizational overhaul, said the issue of “alliance” with a radical party like the ISF should have been discussed and approved by the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

Hitting back at Sharma, Chowdhury said he does not understand the ground realities and the front has been formed to defeat the BJP’s communal and divisive politics.

“Would urge a select group of distinguished Congressmen to rise above always seeking personal comfort spots and stop wasting time singing praises of PM,” he tweeted.

“They owe a duty to strengthen the Party and not undermine the tree that nurtured them,” he said.

“Know ur facts Anand Sharma ji, CPI(M) led Left Front is leading the secular alliance in West Bengal of which Congress is an integral part. We are determined to defeat the BJP’s communal and divisive politics and an autocratic regime,” he said on Twitter.

He said the Congress has already got its full share of seats and the Left Front is allocating seats from its share to the newly formed ISF.

“Your choice to call the decision of CPM-led front ‘communal’ is only serving the polarising agenda of BJP.”

“Those who are committed to fighting the BJP’s venomous communalism should support the Congress and campaign for the party in five states rather than attempting to undermine the party by remarks in tune with BJP’s agenda,” Chowdhury also said.

Party leader Jiytin Prasad also said that alliance decisions are taken keeping in mind the best interests of the party and the workers.

“Now is the time for everyone to join hands and work towards strengthening the prospects of the Congress in the poll-bound states,” he said.

Sharma on Tuesday maintained that they have concerns and what they are saying should be understood in the right context.

“We want to strengthen the Congress and see it united. We do not want anything that could weaken the party,” he said.

Asked about the Congress’ position on the war of words within the party, Singhvi said the PCC chief has already clarified his position.

“This is a propaganda by BJP which, despite the absolute ‘goonda level of politics’ practiced by it, repeatedly claims itself as the true shining secular party and makes a joke by accusing others of communalism,” he alleged.

The BJP also hit out at the Congress over its alliances in different states, saying they are solely aimed at maintaining the Gandhi family’s relevance.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said the Congress has tied up with a “maulana’s party” (Indian Secular Front) and the Left in West Bengal, while it is fighting the Left in Kerala.

The opposition party is also working to strike an alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIDUF in Assam and has joined hands with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, he noted.

“It (the Congress) has no ideology. Its only ideology is corruption and nepotism and to come to power anyhow,” he said.

Such alliances highlight the Congress’ “doublespeak and utmost hypocrisy”, he said at a press conference.

Singhvi did not answer queries on Patra’s allegations.

However, troubled Azad found some support within the party, with some of his colleagues came out in the former Rajya Sabha MP’s support, bringing a rift within the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the party to the fore.

Congress workers, led by the former general secretary of the party’s Jammu and Kashmir unit and District Development Council (DDC) member Mohammad Shahnawaz Choudhary, burnt Azad’s effigy outside the Press Club in the afternoon and accused him of conspiring against the party at the behest of the BJP to weaken it for “personal gains”.

A few hours later, another group of Congress workers, led by JMC councilor Gaurav Chopra, staged a protest against Choudhary and said “a person who fought the recently held DDC polls against the party mandate is not a Congressman and is working on the directions of the BJP and the RSS to weaken the Congress”.

The protest against Azad came days after a rally addressed by some “G-23” leaders, ostensibly to felicitate the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister on his retirement from the Rajya Sabha.

It was seen as a show of strength to convey a message to the Congress leadership.

The group of 23 leaders wrote to interim party president Sonia Gandhi in August last year, urging her to ensure a “full-time” and “visible” leadership.

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The group has since come to be known as the “G-23”.

Chief spokesperson of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress Ravinder Sharma said the party had no prior knowledge of the two protests in the city and will do whatever necessary in its interest.

Raising slogans in support of Azad, Chopra said, “Azad is a Congressman by heart and does not need a certificate from anyone.

He strongly raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in Parliament to disapprove of the August 5, 2019 development (when the Centre revoked the erstwhile state’s special status and bifurcated it into Union territories) and his long innings in the service of the nation drew praises even from the prime minister.”

Demanding the ouster of all those who took part in the protest against Azad from the party, he said, “It is understood who is pulling his (Choudhary’s) strings.”

Chopra said the G-23 leaders, who spoke at a private function here on Saturday, called for the strengthening of the party.

Earlier, the Choudhary-led group shouted slogans against Azad and demanded his ouster from the party.

“The Congress has always put him (Azad) on the top and when the party needed his experience at a time of crisis, he came to Jammu and Kashmir and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who deprived us of statehood.

It is clear that he is working at the behest of the BJP to weaken the party for his personal gains,” Choudhary, a former Jammu and Kashmir Youth Congress president, told reporters.

Choudhary, who won the DDC polls from the Surankot-A constituency of Poonch as an Independent, accused Azad of conspiring against the Congress leadership.

Amid sloganeering in support of Rahul Gandhi, he said they took to the streets to give vent to their anger.

“It is the Congress that groomed him (Azad) over the decades, sent him to the Rajya Sabha repeatedly and made him the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

“When the Congress is facing a crisis and he should have used his experience to strengthen the party, he comes to Jammu and Kashmir with a select group of G-23 leaders and showers praises on Prime Minister Modi to weaken the party for his personal interests,” he said.

At a function here on Sunday, Azad praised Modi, saying he speaks frankly about his past as a tea-seller and does not try to hide his background from the world.

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“I admire several things about a number of leaders. I am from a village and I am proud of it. A big leader, our prime minister, says he is from a village, he used to sell tea. We may have political differences but at least, he does not hide his reality,” he had said.

Choudhary said Azad stayed away from the DDC poll campaigning and invited a select group of G-23 leaders to a function organised by the Gandhi Global Family, which is headed by himself.

“Congress workers are not fools. He enjoyed the benefits when the Congress was in power and when the time came for him to pay back to the party, he is conspiring against it,” he alleged.

Choudhary said Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are the “real leaders” for every Congress worker and the G-23 leaders are conspiring against them.

“We are the foot soldiers of the party and anyone conspiring against the party leadership will have to face our anger,” he said.

When contacted, Sharma said what happened was not in the prior knowledge of the party.

“The statements of some leaders at a private function were not in good taste but we should leave the matter, if any, to the wisdom of the central leadership. We respect Azad and gave him a warm welcome at the airport before felicitating him at the party headquarters on his arrival here last week,” he said.

Senior vice president of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress and former minister Raman Bhalla expressed displeasure over the protests and said the party would take note of the developments.

“We are proud of his (Azad’s) speeches in Parliament, especially after the abrogation of Article 370,” he said, adding that every Congress worker supports the leadership of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

(With PTI Inputs)