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Congress turmoil: A look at past instances involving ‘letters’

The Congress in its 134-year-long history had to contend with several letters that centred on major debates and heated arguments.

On Monday, the Congress Working Committee – the highest decision-making body of the party — saw fireworks over a letter written by 23 leaders.

A peep into the past throws up several similar incidents.

For instance, in 1969, letters were at the centre stage of a tussle between ‘Indicate’ and ‘Syndicate’ that eventually led to the biggest split in the party to date.

A total of six letters were exchanged between the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then Congress president S Nijalingappa in October and November 1969 following the defeat of the candidate Neelam Sanjiva Reddy at the hands of VV Giri after Indira’s call for “conscience voting” to party members of Parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs).

Indira’s responses to Nijalingappa veered around the facts that there is no use in pretending that all’s well, whose echoes are being felt now as the party veterans have red-flagged the need for an “honest introspection”.

Another point of Indira’s reply had an uncanny resemblance with what the interim party president Sonia Gandhi told the CWC meeting on Monday, even though the context of the two occasions were markedly different. While Indira’s reply, drafted by her secretary PN Haksar, suggested that in a dynamic party such as the Congress, it must incorporate multiplicity of ideas and attitudes in sync with the nation’s plurality.

On Monday, though Sonia expressed unhappiness over the leak of the letter to the media, she conceded that “the Congress is a big family and sometimes people can have different suggestions.”

In the end, Sonia gave a clarion call for the party unity. “We are a large family. We have differences and different views on many occasions, but we come together as one. The need of the hour is to fight for the cause of the people and the forces that are failing this country,” she said at the meeting.

However, Indira didn’t have that luxury over five decades ago.

The 1969 tussle was a battle between two different generations of the Congress, akin to the present situation.

But the context of earlier shenanigans was at odds with here and now.

“In 1969, it was a battle between a PM and her party that wanted to control her. It bears no resemblance to the current situation,” said a Congress leader.

While the 1969 infighting was also a clash of personalities that had turned into a battle of ideologies within the party, no such ideological conflicts exist in the current scenario, despite differences of opinion over strategies.

Many in the Congress claimed the intent of the letter brigade was targeted at former party president Rahul Gandhi and his team, as many seniors feel marginalised because of the rise of the younger leaders.

In the meeting, many veterans also spoke against the signatories of the letter. Ambika Soni reminded Ghulam Nabi Azad that he could become Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) chief minister because of the Gandhis, while Ahmed Patel slammed Anand Sharma for drafting such a letter.

Sharma cited examples of world leaders, who are above 65 years, and hinted that veterans too can play a major role in the party’s affairs. Mukul Wasnik, who defended the letter and argued that it was not against the Gandhi family, also insisted that Congress’s internal communication must improve.

Rajiv Satav, a member of the Rajya Sabha (RS), who was recently attacked by the party veterans, hit back and said that he was ashamed that three out of the 23 signatories to the letter are former Indian Youth Congress (IYC) chiefs.

While letters had led to intense debates in both 1969 and now, leaders also quickly pointed out that in both the cases, the fight against the Gandhi family had fizzled out and their authority was further consolidated.

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