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Sibal’s Dinner Feature “Remove Gandhis” Talk


New Delhi: 

Former Union Minister Kapil Sibal hosted a dinner at his Delhi home on Monday for a galaxy of opposition leaders. It was his birthday celebration but the meeting became a rallying point for the opposition against the Narendra Modi government. Questions were also asked about the rejuvenation of the Congress, which some leaders present suggested could only happen if the party was “freed from the clutches of the Gandhis’ leadership”, sources said. The Gandhis were not present at the gathering.

Mr Sibal was among the dissenters who wrote an explosive letter to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last year, expressing concern over the party’s slide since it lost power in 2014. In what was seen as a stunning act of defiance, they also demanded sweeping organisational changes – including an “active, visible leadership” and internal elections.

The invitees included other leaders pushing for change in the Congress — P Chidambaram, Shashi Tharoor and Anand Sharma. All three are among the leaders who have been raising questions within the party about its future.

The opposition leaders present included Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien and Omar Abdullah of National Conference.

In a first, the Akali Dal, a former BJP ally, was also invited; senior party leader Naresh Gujral was present. So was Pinaki Mishra from Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal – party that keeps lending what it calls issue-based support to the BJP government at the Centre.

Mr Sibal reportedly started off the attack against the government, explaining how every institution has been destroyed during its tenure. He also underscored the need for all opposition parties to work with a clear focus.

Omar Abdullah pointed out that whenever the Congress is strong, the opposition becomes stronger and questioned what steps were being taken to strengthen the party.

Naresh Gujral of the Akali Dal launched a direct attack on the Gandhis, saying “unless the party gets out of the clutches of the family it will be very difficult to strengthen the party”.

It has been suggested frequently by leaders both within the party and other opposition parties that the Congress needs a change in leadership for its revival. Several leaders, though, have been pushing for a comeback by Rahul Gandhi, who quit as Congress president in 2019 after the party’s decimation in the national election.

Mr Gandhi, in an interview to the Press Trust of India, had said, “It is for the party workers to decide as to who should lead the party. I will do whatever the party wants me to do”.

Internal Congress elections promised to the dissidents have yet to happen despite several meets of the Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body – to discuss the matter.

Lalu Yadav, who till lately had been in jail and made a rare appearance, urged the opposition parties to work together and fight the BJP in the 2024 general election.

The Congress, Mr Chidambaram suggested, should come to an understanding with the regional parties in states to put up a united front against the BJP.

It was pointed to most opposition leaders that a beginning has been made and all political leaders must work together to defeat the BJP.


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