4 months after unprecedented dissent, Sonia will meet some of 23 letter-writers tomorrow

The meeting was arranged after seven-eight key leaders from among the 23 letter-writers met several times in Delhi over the past week. A list of potential attendees was sent to Sonia, out of which a select group will meet her, sources said.

Sonia Gandhi will on Saturday meet some of the 23 senior leaders who had written to her in August seeking sweeping changes in the Congress organisation and an effective, full-time leadership that is “visible” and “active”. This will be the first attempt at rapprochement from both sides.

The meeting was arranged after seven-eight key leaders from among the 23 letter-writers met several times in Delhi over the past week. A list of potential attendees was sent to Sonia, out of which a select group will meet her, sources said.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to be part of the meeting.

Among those who could attend the meeting with Sonia are Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former union ministers Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor; and former chief ministers of Haryana and Maharashtra, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan, sources said.

Senior leaders Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, A K Antony and AICC general secretary (Organisation) K C Venugopal are also expected to be present.

Former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath is learnt to be coordinating the meeting. Nath has met Sonia twice after she returned from Goa after a fortnight’s break earlier this month.

“The senior-most leadership of the Congress will attend the meeting to resolve organisational matters and find a way forward,” a senior Congress leader said.

The Indian Express had on August 23 reported on the unprecedented letter written by the 23 senior leaders, including five former chief ministers, many Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, sitting MPs, and several former union ministers.

But at its meeting two days later, the CWC neither discussed the contents of the letter nor gave any specific commitments on the way forward. Instead, member after member attacked the 23 rebels, questioned and criticised the intent and timing of their letter, and pledged loyalty to the Gandhi family.

Besides calling for a wide ranging reforms, decentralisation of power, empowerment of state units, elections to the Congress organisation at all levels from the block to the CWC, and the urgent constitution of a central parliamentary board, the leaders had argued that uncertainty over the leadership and the “drift” in the party had demoralised workers and weakened the Congress.

Since August, the Congress has suffered more reverses in elections, including in Bihar – where its dismal performance perhaps kept the grand alliance away from the halfway mark – Kerala, Hyderabad, and Assam. Sources in the group of 23 claimed several leaders from across the country have backed their arguments.

The Congress plans to hold elections for the post of party president in the next few months. While it is not clear whether Rahul has agreed to return to the helm, the 23 leaders had demanded that an “institutional leadership mechanism” that would “collectively” guide the party’s revival, should be established urgently. Sources said the CWC too could meet soon.

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