"I Am Full-Time President": Sonia Gandhi To 'G-23' At Key Congress Meet

"I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President..." Sonia Gandhi said, highlighting her leadership on issues like the farmers protests

Sonia Gandhi has been the Congress' interim chief since Rahul Gandhi quit in 2019

New Delhi:

Sonia Gandhi on Saturday underlined her position as a "full-time and hands-on Congress President" as she hit back at critics within the party - such as the 'G-23' - who have been pushing, for over a year now, for an organisational overhaul and the election of "visible and effective leadership".

Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee - the party's highest decision-making body - Mrs Gandhi, who has been interim President since Rahul Gandhi quit in 2019 - said "I have always appreciated frankness" and "there is no need to speak to me through the media" - a reference to letters released by 'G-23' members that triggered public spats between leaders in both camps.

"I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands on Congress President..." Mrs Gandhi said, highlighting her leadership on national issues like the farmers protests, the provision of aid and relief during the pandemic and atrocities committed on marginalised groups and communities.

"You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister, as have Dr Manmohan Singh ji and Rahul (Gandhi) ji... I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly. We have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well."

Mrs Gandhi also called a free and honest discussion on challenges facing the party.

"... but what should get communicated outside the four walls of this room is the collective decision of the CWC," she said, warning the 'G-23' against leaking to the press.

Sometime during the meet senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad - a 'G-23' member - was quoted by news agency ANI as saying: "We have full faith in Sonia Gandhi ji and nobody is questioning her leadership."

The CWC met today to finalise the schedule for organisational elections - a full-time Congress President will be chosen after elections between August 21 and September 20 next year.

This is a long-standing demand of the 'G-23' who, in their comments and letters, have cited poor performances in previous Assembly elections (and again in polls held in five states in April and May, including Bengal, where the party flopped) and called for sweeping structural changes.

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This was the Congress' first in-person meet since the pandemic and a series of lockdowns

On the subject of internal elections Mrs Gandhi admitted that "the entire organisation wants a revival... but this requires unity and keeping the party's interests paramount".

"Above all, it requires self-control and discipline. I am acutely conscious of the fact I have been interim Congress President ever since the CWC asked me to return in this capacity in 2019," she said, pointing out internal elections had been scheduled for June this year before Covid struck.

She pointed out polls had been scheduled for June but had to be postponed because of Covid.

Concurrently the party will also have to plan for Assembly elections in key states, including Punjab, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. Those three states (elections are also due in others) are likely to be seen as key indicators of the Congress' pull with voters ahead of national elections next year.

"Our preparations began a while back. Undoubtedly, we face many challenges but, if we are united, disciplined, and focus on the party's interests alone, I am confident we will do well," Mrs Gandhi said.

57 members met today, including Mrs Gandhi, Lok Sabha MP Rahul Gandhi, and General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as well as senior figures like ex Union Minister P Chidambaram and the Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh (Bhupesh Baghel) and Punjab (Charanjit Channi).

Some members of the 'G-23' were also present.

This was the Congress' first in-person meet since the pandemic and a series of lockdowns.

With input from ANI

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