Days after Kapil Sibal’s comments about the Congress’ decline sparked another bout of infighting, party chief Sonia Gandhi has included four members of the dissenting camp in three committees set up to keep her informed on matters relating to national security, foreign affairs and the economy.
Announced Friday, just before Ms Gandhi leaves for Goa to escape Delhi pollution, the appointments are being seen as a move to ward off further public embarrassment – such as that caused by Mr Sibal’s interview to the Indian Express or the letter by 23 leaders challenging the Gandhi family’s control.
The committee on economic affairs includes former Finance Minister P Chidambaram. The second committee (on foreign affairs) has both Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor, and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Veerappa Moily have been named to the third.
Mr Chidambaram, a Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra, was not initially placed in the dissenting camp, but appears to have been moved there after his support of Mr Sibal. He had criticised the party’s on-ground presence in the light of its performance in the Bihar election and bypolls in other states.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a member of all three committees.
The very public breaking-of-ranks over a perceived lack of leadership and dismal electoral results extended Tuesday to questions over economic policies.
Anand Sharma, a former Union Minister for Commerce, criticised the decision to stay away from the RCEP (regional comprehensive economic partnership) – a free trade deal promoted by China.
The Congress had been the first to red-flag India’s potential membership. The Narendra Modi government subsequently skipped the deal citing concerns over its impact on small manufacturers.
Disagreement over the RCEP was after Kapil Sibal’s interview, in which he cited the Bihar results to call for “experienced minds… hands and those who understand political realities”. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior leader Salman Khurshid both hit back at Mr Sibal.
Both Anand Sharma and Kapil Sibal were among the 23 Congress leaders behind August’s “dissent letter“, which caused an all-out clash but yielded little by way of actual changes.
The letter called for sweeping reforms, introspection and “full-time, visible leadership” of a party that has had Ms Gandhi as “interim” chief since Rahul Gandhi resigned after last year’s Lok Sabha polls.
A heated meeting of the Congress Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – followed, in which Ms Gandhi offered to resign before being persuaded to remain as interim chief, with an AICC meeting to be called in six months.
A committee was set up to examine the dissenting leaders’ grievances, but Mr Sibal, in his comments on Monday, suggested little progress had been made on resolving issues.
“Since there has been no dialogue and there seems to be no effort for a dialogue by the leadership and since there is no forum to express my views, I am constrained to express them publicly,” Mr Sibal told the Indian Express on Monday.