Sonia Gandhi finally agrees to meet the rebels in Congress. How did it happen

Signs of a thaw have emerged as Congress tries to elect a new leader in the new year. (FILE)

New Delhi:

A group of Congressional “rebels” who wrote a letter signaling a leadership drift and calling for radical organizational changes, could finally meet Sonia Gandhi. Former Madhya Pradesh Prime Minister Kamal Nath was instrumental in organizing the meeting, the sources say.

Twenty-three leaders had signed the letter, but not all will be present at the meeting. It is believed that a small group of five or six leaders will likely represent the broadest concerns.

The meeting will take place on Saturday, the sources say, on a journey towards reconciliation. It is unclear if Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be present.

But Congress says it’s not just a meeting between Sonia Gandhi and the rebels; others who were not signatories of the letter will also be present.

Kamal Nath, the sources say, supported the cause of the so-called dissident leaders, who had expressed concern over the fall of the party and called for “active and present leadership” in a letter in August. It was an extraordinary act of defiance by a group that included the highest defenders and spokespersons of the party.

Kamal Nath, who lost power in Madhya Pradesh in March following the defection of senior leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to the BJP, played a role in persuading the Gandhis to meet the authors of the letters, the sources say. Until now he had kept his distance from dissidents.

Soon after the letter bomb exploded, some of the “dissidents”, such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, were snubbed when they sought a date with Sonia Gandhi. Instead, Mr. Azad and another letter writer, Mukul Wasnik, faced a virtual ambush at an online Congress meeting, in the presence of the Gandhis.

Signs of a thaw have emerged as Congress tries to elect a new leader in the new year. Sonia Gandhi, 74, has been president of the interim party since her son Rahul Gandhi resigned last year for his second consecutive defeat in national congressional elections.

Since then, the party has lost two key states, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, and has barely resisted Rajasthan, where the rebel Sachin Pilot arrived after meeting the Gandhis. Recently, Rajasthani Prime Minister Ashok Gehlot hinted that the threat from the BJP trying to overthrow his government with the help of Congressional rebels has not faded.

A rebellion threatened to reignite last month after Congress’s poor performance in the Bihar elections. Kapil Sibal, one of the letter writers, went public with a strong blow to the leadership, saying “the time for introspection is over”. After him, other party leaders like Fr Chidambaram also called for a “complete overhaul” and suggested that the party should strengthen its core.