NEW DELHI: Leader of the Congress dissident group G-23 Ghulam Nabi Azad met party chief Sonia Gandhi at her residence on Friday, capping days of escalated activities by the bloc, which has reiterated its demands for party reforms and “inclusive and collective leadership”.
After the meeting, which lasted around an hour, Azad told reporters that the talks revolved around suggestions to strengthen the party and the strategy to fight the coming assembly polls unitedly, and establishing partnership with like-minded regional parties.
After the Congress decimation in the recently held assembly elections to five states, Azad had told TOI that “leaders like him cannot watch the Congress die… the situation is alarming”. The bloc of 23 leaders, who in 2020 wrote a letter to Sonia seeking sweeping reforms in the party structure, have held multiple meetings in recent days to press their demands, even issuing a joint statement this week.
Sensing the vulnerability and the need to forge a united face ahead of the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the party chief also reached out to the dissidents this week, calling Azad before the meeting of the G-23 on Wednesday.
After the talks with Sonia on Friday, Azad said, “Mrs Gandhi keeps having discussions with leaders to strengthen the organization. A few days ago, the Congress Working Committee had met and suggestions were asked as to how to strengthen the Congress party and what were the reasons for the defeat [in five assembly polls. I had also given my suggestions.”
After maximalist demands from dissidents, like Kapil Sibal who called for the Gandhi family to step away from the party leadership, Azad’s visit to 10 Janpath indicates that the bloc may not push for an extreme position and is ready to accept the olive branch extended by the leadership. However, sources said the G-23 demand for creation of a Central Parliamentary Board is still on the wishlist. The loyalists have so far been averse to the suggestion.
Though Azad rebuffed queries about G-23 seeking a change in leadership, asking “where is the vacancy”, it remains to be seen how the issue pans out in the run-up to the organisational polls scheduled for September. Some members of the dissident bloc are keen that the leadership be divided- like the Gandhi family taking the leadership of Parliament, while the party reins go to a senior leader outside the family, or vice versa.
A mass leader in the G-23, former chief minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda, met Rahul Gandhi on Thursday, in what was seen as a preliminary contact for reconciliation between the dissidents and the establishment.