Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the signatories to the "dissident" letter that has rattled the party, delivered a sharp message today to the leadership four days after he was isolated and targeted at a top meeting. Defending the demand for organizational elections in the letter, he said an appointed president right now "may not even have one per cent support".
The comment comes after the Congress, roundly criticizing the letter, reaffirmed Sonia Gandhi as interim party chief at the meeting, leaving the question of choosing her successor for later.
"An election has the benefit that when you fight elections, at least your party is 51 per cent behind you. Right now, the person who becomes president might not even have one per cent support. If CWC members are elected then they cannot be removed. So what is the problem," Ghulam Nabi Azad, 71, told news agency ANI.
"Those office-bearers or state unit presidents or block district presidents who attack our proposal know that they will be nowhere when elections happen. Whoever is genuinely invested in the Congress will welcome the letter," the Rajya Sabha member said.
The letter written to interim party chief Sonia Gandhi by 23 Congress leaders including MPs and former ministers called for sweeping reforms, fair internal elections, collective decision-making and a "full-time, visible leadership".
According to Mr Azad, the letter suggested that state Congress chiefs, district presidents, block presidents and the Congress Working Committee should be elected.
Many saw the letter as a veiled attack on Rahul Gandhi, who quit as president last year over the Congress's election defeat but remains powerful and continues to be at the forefront of the party's decision-making and offensive against the government amid speculation that he may return. Over the past few months, the Congress has been sharply divided with the veterans ranged against what is known to be Rahul Gandhi's core group.
Mr Azad and other signatories to the letter who are members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) were attacked as "traitors" at a big meet on Monday in which both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were present. Issues raised in the letter were overtaken by condemnation of the letter writers.
Leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and Ambika Soni reportedly called for disciplinary action. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said "evil-intentioned people" like Mr Azad should not be allowed to speak and was reprimanded by Sonia Gandhi.
The meeting ended with the Congress declaring that Sonia Gandhi would remain interim chief until an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in the next six months. It was reportedly also decided that the party would examine the grievances of the letter writers. Sonia Gandhi, say sources, will restructure the AICC to assist her but her close aides have ruled out a committee being formed.