Even as Sonia Gandhi was on Saturday re-elected chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party and asked party men not to bicker in public amid a fierce blame game in the party, the anger and anguish was visible after the meet was over. Anita Katyal reports
“There are more media persons here than MPs” remarked the irrepressible Rajya Sabha member Mani Shankar Aiyar when he reached Parliament for the meeting where Sonia Gandhi was re-elected chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
Aiyar’s off-the-cuff comment summed up the mood at the first meeting of Congress members of Parliament after the party’s debacle in the recently-concluded general elections. With the Congress tally reduced to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and its MPs preparing to sit in the opposition after a decade, the MPs were predictably demoralised and dejected.
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The meeting followed a pre-written script. Senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge proposed Sonia’s name for the post of CPP chairperson, which was seconded by veteran leader Mohsina Kidwai and others. Manmohan Singh made brief comments while the meeting ended with Sonia’s speech. None of the MPs spoke except for endorsing the proposal and adopting a resolution in which they resolved to “regroup, rebuild and revive” the party under the joint leadership of party president Sonia and vice-president Rahul.
However, their anger and anguish surfaced when they emerged from the short meeting which ended even before it had begun. While MPs publicly declared that members should not indulge in a blame game but instead go in for a serious introspection about the reasons for the party’s humiliating defeat, it did not stop them from taking potshots at their detractors in the party.
Former Union minister Selja Kumari, whose antipathy towards Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is well-known, declared that the latter should have taken moral responsibility for the poor showing in the state and offered to resign.
“Look at Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi. At least, he offered to step down. Hooda should have done the same. He should also do some serious introspection about the Haryana results where the party won only one seat and that too, of his son,” said an angry Selja who has had a long-running battle with Hooda.
Similarly, newly-elected Amritsar MP and former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh could not help taking potshots at his bete noire, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Pratap Singh Bajwa.
“We lost the last assembly election by a narrow margin but look at his defeat. He lost comprehensively in all the assembly segments of his constituency,” remarked Amarinder who has publicly demanded Bajwa’s removal.
Rajya Sabha member from Andhra Pradesh Renuka Chaudhary was all fire and brimstone over the party’s disastrous performance in her home state. Lamenting that the party failed to capitalise on the leadership’s bold decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh, Chaudhary said there were far too many chief ministerial candidates in Telangana but no workers.
She was also upset over the manner in which Congress general secretaries had handled the defeat. “They should have gone to the states under their charge and spoken to the workers in an effort to boost their morale. Instead, they were nowhere to be seen,” Chaudhary added.
While several MPs launched a veiled attack against Rahul Gandhi by hitting out at his coterie of advisors, senior leaders like Veerappa Moily and Amarinder Singh defended the party vice-president, stating that he should take over as leader of the parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha. Sonia Gandhi has been authorised to name the party’s leaders in the two houses of Parliament.
In her brave speech to party MPs, Sonia said though the party’s working committee had deliberated briefly on the causes leading to its electoral defeat, this is only the beginning. “We need to reflect more, deliberate more, debate more and draw the right lessons,” she said. While suggesting that a revamp of the party organisation is on the cards, she also sought inputs and suggestions from members in this exercise while urging them to not indulge in public acrimony.
The Congress president also prepped up the MPs for their role in the opposition. "We will be a strong opposition and raise important issues. We all should sit together and fight together", she said, adding "Being in the Opposition means asking more questions, raising more issues, initiating more debates and always being the vigilant watchdog."
Well aware of the demoralisation which has set in, Sonia also sought to boost the morale of members by reminding them about the past when the party had bounced back after defeat. "The Congress has lost this time but this is not the first time. We have to individually and collectively draw appropriate lessons from the unprecedented setback," she said
The Congress also used the occasion to reach out to other “like-minded secular parties” in a resolution adopted at the meeting which said the party would play the role of a “responsible and constructive opposition.
Seeking floor coordination with all secular parties in Parliament, the resolution said, “The CPP expresses the hope that all progressive and secular forces in Parliament will coordinate their strategies effectively so as to present a united and cohesive opposition which is the lifeblood of any democracy. The CPP assures other like-minded parties that it will extend its cooperation in this regard.”
The Congress’s olive branch to other opposition parties comes at a time when the party is at its weakest while the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has won a huge mandate. Moreover, the BJP is making all efforts to isolate the Congress by reaching out to opposition parties while many such as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samajwadi Party have openly declared that they paid the price for supporting the United Progressive Alliance government.
Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi at the Congress Parliamentary Party meet in New Delhi on Saturday. Photograph: INC's Twitter feed.