G-23 dies as Kapil Sibal quits and others patch up with Congress

Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
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Kapli Sibal filing Rajya Sabha Nomination as SP-backed Independent candidate

The resignation of former union minister Kapil Sibal from the Congress has also brought down the curtains on the group of 23 dissenters or popularly known as G-23.

While filing his nomination papers on Wednesday for the June 10 Rajya Sabha elections from Uttar Pradesh as a Samajwadi Party candidate, Sibal, 73, announced that he had resigned from the Congress on May 16.

The 23 dissenters had written a joint letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on August 7, 2020, seeking internal reforms including organisational elections from top to bottom and an active and visible leadership.

With Sibal's resignation, the G-23 virtually seems to be disbanded given that the Congress leadership had already started a reconciliation process with other key dissidents, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, and Shashi Tharoor.

The first indication of a rapprochement between the G-23 and the Congress high command came when Hooda's nominee Udai Bhan was appointed the Haryana Congress president.

Then, Azad and Sharma were on Tuesday named as members of the political advisory group under the chairpersonship of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss and deliberate on political issues and challenges before the party.

While announcing the setting up of this and other groups such as a task force for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Sonia Gandhi had made it abundantly clear that the political advisory panel would not be a collective decision-making body but help her to get the benefit of the vast experience of senior colleagues.

As of now, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is the highest decision-making body in the grand old party.

The Congress president had turned down a demand by G-23 or change-seekers to form an all-powerful parliamentary board as envisaged in the party constitution.

Apart from Azad and Sharma, the group has Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Ambika Soni, Digvijaya Singh, KC Venugopal and Jitendra Singh.

The eight-member task force has P Chidambaram, Jairam Ramesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Randeep Singh Surjewala, KC Venugopal, Ajay Maken, Sunil Kanugolu, who had assisted Prashant Kishor in strategising the BJP's campaign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and Mukul Wasnik, another dissident.

Interestingly, none of the members of this task force is a member of the Lok Sabha. They are either Rajya Sabha members or general secretaries.

Former union minister and another letter writer Shashi Tharoor is part of a central planning group for the coordination of Bharat Jodo Yatra. The other members are Digvijaya Singh, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Sachin Pilot, Jyothimani, KJ George, Pradyut Bordoloi, Jitu Patwari, and Saleem Ahmed.

There is a strong possibility that Azad, Sharma, and Wasnik might be nominated to the Rajya Sabha from different states for the June 10 elections.

If that happens, it will strengthen the perception that the G-23 was formed for personal interests only and not for the benefit of the party.

It was more about the revival of their careers than seeking rejuvenation of the Congress. 

The majority of them had held key posts in the party and the UPA government and were feeling frustrated with the expiry of their Rajya Sabha tenure.

Also, Sibal has become the sixth Congress leader to leave the party in the past six months. Prior to him, Ashwani Kumar, RPN Singh, Shatrughan Sinha, Hardik Patel, and Sunil Jakhar quit the grand old party.

Being the most vocal member of G-23, Sibal's continuation in the Congress had become untenable as the party high command was of the firm view that he had majorly violated the discipline and was repeatedly giving a handle to the opposition to attack the party.

There were demands from Congress leaders and workers from across the country for strict action against him. Had he not quit the party, it was only a matter of time before the Congress leadership would have sacked him.