Days after the generational divide in Congress was bared after young turks blamed the UPA-II for party’s decline, several senior leaders including Shashi Tharoor and Anand Sharma have come out in defence of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and the party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi.
This comes in the backdrop of a heated debate that reportedly ensued at a closed-door meeting of Congress Rajya Sabha MPs. According to some media reports, some younger leaders of the party challenged Singh’s legacy as prime minister by stating that it was the UPA-II government that had “spoilt” the party’s prospects in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
As the details of the heated debate made headlines, several members of the old guard came out in support of Sonia and former prime minister Singh; some went a step ahead and expressed their displeasure with Rahul’s loyalists. Manmohan, meanwhile, reportedly stayed silent throughout the exchange as younger members of his own party raised questions on his leadership and policies.
Old vs New Guard
According to a report in PTI, some young MPs, including Rajeev Satav, the AICC in-charge for Gujarat, are learnt to have asked at the meeting for the link between the UPA government’s performance and the Congress’s electoral downfall to be reviewed. The young guard, including Satav, KC Venugopal and a few other leaders have reportedly demanded that those who were part of the last UPA government should take the blame for the Congress’s rapid decline.
Sources told the news agency that demands for resolving the leadership issue in the Congress were also raised at Thursday’s meeting, with younger members pushing for the return of Rahul while the old guard maintaining that they weren’t opposed to the proposal but needed more clarity from the Gandhi scion on the direction he wishes to take after assuming charge of the party.
NDTV, quoting internal party sources said, the clash reportedly began when veteran Congress leaders flagged their concern about the party’s failure to capitalise on topics that seem to have haunted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government this year. The seniors called for more introspection and debate within the party to underscore why it failed to exploit the Modi government’s perceived missteps on issues such as the economy, coronavirus and the standoff with China.
The Hindu reported that Chidambaram’s observations about the party being unable to garner public support despite government’s failures, elicited a similar retort from Venugopal.
The younger members, defended Rahul saying the leader had been constantly engaging on social media over these issues. They instead demanded introspection from seniors and asked if the cause of Congress’ decline didn’t lie during the years of the UPA rule.
Rahul had quit the Congress top post after the party’s debacle in the 2019 general elections — the second time in a row. Sonia had stepped in to take over the role in the interim till the party decided on a new presidential candidate. But over a year later, there seems to be no agreement on a non-Gandhi member heading the grand old party.
Senior leaders defend Manmohan, Sonia
Reacting to the discontent within, former Union minister Manish Tewari on Friday said while it is valid to ask if the UPA caused the decline in the Congress’s fortunes, it is also important to determine if the UPA was sabotaged from within.
“Was UPA responsible for the decline in Fortunes of Congress in 2014 is a valid question and must be gone into? Equally valid is was UPA sabotaged from within? 2019 defeat must also be analysed,” he wrote on Twitter.
BJP was out of Power for 10 yrs 2004-14. Not once did they ever blame Vajpayee or his Govt for their then predicaments
In @INCIndia unfortunatly some ill -informed ‘s would rather take swipes at Dr. Manmohan Singh led UPA govt than fight NDA/BJP.
When unity reqd they divide.
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) August 1, 2020
Tewari said no charge against the Congress-led UPA has stood the test of law even after six years of its relinquishing office.
His reference was to the alleged corruption in the 2G Spectrum allocation, which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used as a major poll plank against the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Shashi Tharoor and Milind Deora also defended the party seniors saying that those who were taking swipes at Singh and Sonia were ill-informed.
I agree with @ManishTewari & @milinddeora. UPA’s transformative ten years were distorted & traduced by a motivated & malicious narrative. There’s plenty to learn from our defeats & much to be done to revive @INCIndia. But not by playing into the hands of our ideological enemies. https://t.co/Ui6WUlBl3F
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) August 1, 2020
Anand Sharma posted a long Twitter thread detailing the achievements of the Congress rule and arguing how UPA had fallen “victim of a grand political conspiracy and malicious disinformation campaign of the BJP.” He said that the Congress must be proud of Singh’s policies, adding that BJP cannot be expected to give Singh his due credit but he expected better from his own party colleagues.
Congressmen must be proud of UPA’s legacy. No party disowns or discredits it’s legacy. Nobody expects the BJP to be charitable and give us credit but our own should respect and not forget. (11/11)
— Anand Sharma (@AnandSharmaINC) August 1, 2020
Some senior leaders chose to air their discontent on ‘team Rahul’s’ attacks more clearly. The Telegraph quoting senior Congress leaders anonymously, reported that the old guard admits that the two sides have been keeping their truce because of senior leaders’ maturity and their unwavering commitment towards Sonia and the party.
“What if we hit back openly? The seniors include people who worked with Indira Gandhi and many with Rajiv Gandhi. They built the party with their blood and toil for 40-50 years. The young have neither shown that kind of commitment, nor talent. Two most precious young leaders have gone to the BJP and three to four are in doubtful category. We are not going anywhere. If Rahul Gandhi wants to poison us, he can say so openly. Minions should not be unleashed to humiliate us,” The Telegraph quoted an unnamed senior leader as saying.
The Congress has seen youngsters getting “disenchanted” with the prevailing power structure in the party with former MP and a long-time Rahul Gandhi confidante Jyotiraditya Scindia quitting to join the BJP this year.
Another young turk Sachin Pilot, the former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan, has raised a banner of revolt against his own government in the state, causing consternation across the rank and file of the grand old party.
The Congress, however, dismissed reports of rift within the party, terming them “fiction” and a product of the “BJP’s propaganda factory”.
Asked about the prevailing anxieties between the older and younger leaders, party spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill said, “As a spokesperson of a national party, we only reply to facts and not fiction.”
“The stories about internal rumblings in the Congress party and the fight between the young and old guard is a figment of imagination, fiction and a product of the BJP’s propaganda factory, merely unleashed in the market to cover their faultlines and failures in the health infrastructure and national security of the country,” he said at a virtual press conference.
Shergill said rather than focussing on the “so-called internal fights” of the Congress, which do exist, it would be better if the BJP concentrated on the coronavirus and the country’s fight against China. “The Congress is united. We will emerge stronger in 2024 and silence all our critics,” he said.
Asked about the demands for introspection, Shergill said the party has neither shied away from introspecting on its electoral losses nor from taking responsibility.
“Whether it is a win or a loss, the Congress has always introspected and will introspect on its poll strategy, election wins and losses. We have always taken victory with humility and learnt from our losses,” he said.
With inputs from PTI