Following the exit of senior leader Ashwani Kumar from the Congress, senior All India Congress Committee (AICC) members of the party’s G-23 group have raised serious concerns over “leader after leader” leaving the grand old party. While the Congress has maintained its silence over Ashwani Kumar’s exit, G-23 leaders have called upon the party leadership to introspect amidst the series of high-profile leaders’ exits from the party.
The G-23 comprises of 23 senior leaders of the party who were signatories to the letter sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in August 2020. In the letter, the senior party members had called for sweeping changes in the party.
Voicing concern over Ashwani Kumar’s exit, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “It is a matter of great concern that leader after leader are leaving the party. (Ashwani) Kumar, I think, is the fourth or fifth former Union minister who has left, besides a large number of leaders and workers at various levels across the country.”
Stating that the Congress should do sincere introspection to get to the root cause behind the series of exits, the Congress Working Committee member and former Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha said, “It is not right to say these leaders are going at the behest of any individual, or party. There must be some disquiet within the party (that) makes even hardcore Congress leaders uncomfortable.”
Azad further noted that a united Congress is in the best interest of the nation. He cited the long association of Ashwani Kumar’s family with the Congress since before independence, to state, “If such people go then that means there is something wrong.”
Another G-23 member, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda took to Twitter to share, “The news of Sh Ashwani Kumar leaving Congress is sad and unfortunate. He is an old dear friend and one belonging to a freedom fighter’s family.”
Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, also a G-23 leader, tweeted, “Sad to see a valued colleague Ashwani Kumar quitting Congress. Unfortunate that someone who gave four decades to serve the party has left. A matter of collective concern.”
Speaking to the Indian Express, Lok Sabha MP Manish Tewari said, “Mr Ashwani Kumar and I worked together in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. He and I have had civilised differences on a number of issues. However, even if a small worker leaves the party, it calls for introspection.”
Other party leaders, who are not part of the G-23, have also called Ashwani Kumar’s exit “unfortunate”, and have raised concern that it can bring serious problems for the party if the results of the ongoing and upcoming assembly elections are not in its favor. “You can’t run the party only with some Youth Congress people. All senior leaders are seriously disgruntled,” said one party leader.
Former Union Minister under the Dr Manmohan Singh government and a Gandhi loyalist, Ashwani Kumar quit the party a week ahead of the Punjab Assembly election. In a brief resignation letter to party president Sonia Gandhi, Kumar mentioned, “I am accordingly quitting the party after a long association of 46 years and hope to proactively pursue public causes inspired by the idea of transformative leadership, based on the dignitarian promise of a liberal democracy envisioned by our freedom fighters.”
After declaring his exit, Kumar said that the party is going downhill in the “foreseeable future” and “there comes a time when you can’t take anymore”.
“Repeatedly this question is asked, if the people are not happy with the Prime Minister, why is the Congress not voted in? Precisely because the alternative that we are offering is not acceptable to the people. And this is one factor that is beyond discussion in the party,” said the former Law Minister.
Explaining his decision to end his long association with the Congress, Kumar said, “I believe there comes a time when you can’t take it anymore. I was having sleepless nights for several days. I thought to myself, at this stage in my life, should I not rise in my own estimation? What I am I sticking here for if I feel so uncomfortable? I think the time has come for calling a spade a spade and to take difficult decisions.”
Stating that the party leadership handling the internal feud in Punjab was the worst in 40 years, Kumar said, “The manner in which Amarinder Singh was humiliated into resigning has not left a good impression of the Congress, either in Punjab or the rest of the country. I was never in Amarinder Singh’s inner circle but I resent and condemn the way he was humiliated into resigning.”
However, Kumar clarified that he has no immediate plans to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) like other party leaders who quit before him did. “I have not given it a thought. I have not met anyone in the BJP. I would like to categorically state that there is no decision as yet. I may not even join any party,” he said.