"Checked On Sonia Gandhi Health Before Sending Letter": Ghulam Nabi Azad

Rahul Gandhi had questioned why the 23 top leaders had written a letter attacking the Congress when the Congress president (his mother Sonia Gandhi) was in hospital.

Ghulam Nabi Azad responded to the charge that the letter was sent when Sonia Gandhi was unwell.(FILE)

New Delhi:

Responding to Rahul Gandhi's sharp criticism of the "dissent" letter addressed to his mother Sonia Gandhi and its timing at a top Congress meet today, Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the most senior signatories to the letter, responded to the charge that the letter was sent when the 73-year-old was unwell.

Early in the Congress Working Committee meeting that went on for seven hours, Rahul Gandhi questioned why the 23 top leaders had written a letter attacking the Congress when it was at its weakest, when it was battling crises in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and when the Congress president (his mother Sonia Gandhi) was in hospital.

Speaking to NDTV, Mr Azad repeated the explanation that he said he had also presented before Rahul Gandhi.

The veteran leader, a Rajya Sabha member, said he had called and checked with Sonia Gandhi's private secretary twice before sending the letter. "I was told that she is in hospital for a routine check-up. Still, we waited till she was back home before sending the letter," Mr Azad told NDTV.

Sonia Gandhi, who was admitted to hospital late last month, was discharged in the beginning of August.

He said the Congress chief called a few days later and said she could not respond to the letter because of her poor health.

"I told Soniaji, your health is paramount, all else can wait," said Mr Azad. He claimed that Rahul Gandhi heard him out and was "satisfied" with the response.

The letter, details of which were leaked on the weekend, called for a "full-time, visible leadership" and said the party had been weakened because of a drift the uncertainty at the top. Calling for major reforms in the organization and transparent elections, the letter also suggested that the Gandhis could be part of a collective leadership.

Sonia Gandhi will remain party president until a new chief is elected at an All India Congress Committee meeting, the party said.

The Congress closed the meeting with a stern message that "inner-party issues cannot be deliberated through the media or in public fora" and "no one will be permitted to undermine or weaken the party and its leadership at this juncture".

Mr Azad said he and other signatories to the letter were "very satisfied with the manner in which the meeting went".

The Congress would have a permanent president after six months, which was good as it would end ad-hocism, he said.

The senior leader also said the party had agreed to set up a committee to address some of the concerns raised in the letter.