Congress leaders, who had written to party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi in 2020 seeking reforms within the organisation, on Monday criticised Mallikarjun Kharge’s remarks against them, reported The Indian Express.

At a session organised by The Indian Express, Kharge had said that these leaders, who are commonly referred to as Group of 23, who got everything from the party must not think of destroying it. Kharge had also claimed that these leaders had been missing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

When asked about party leader Kabil Sibal hosting a dinner attended by members of the Group of 23 as well as Opposition leaders, Kharge asked: “If we discuss our party’s issues before people who we are fighting with in Punjab, does it strengthen our party?”

The dinner was attended by Naresh Gujral, a leader of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party’s former ally and the Opposition party in Punjab, reported NDTV. Other leaders present were Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Sanjay Raut from the Shiv Sena.

On Kharge’s remarks, Sibal said the Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha forgot he was talking about those who gave everything to the party, including some who contributed to building it.

“All of us are united in our consistent wish to strengthen the party and make it more effective in the national struggle to save India’s soul,” Sibal told The Indian Express.

Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor said Kharge’s remarks were unfortunate. Tharoor said that he hoped Kharge appreciates the Group of 23 leaders are “equally committed to strengthening the party in the broader national struggle against the BJP”.

Congress MP Manish Tewari said that no intra-party matters were discussed at the dinner event. On the Covid-19 pandemic remark, Tewari said he wished Kharge would have spoken to him personally so that he could have told him about his work.

“Generalised statements have implications, especially in constituencies represented by Lok Sabha members of the party, and therefore such generalisations should be avoided,” he added.

Congress’ deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma said: “Having highest respect for Congress president Sonia Gandhi, I stand for a strong and united Congress to confront the present challenges. Any controversy would be counterproductive.”

What is Group of 23?

In August 2020, at least 23 Congress leaders, including Sibal, Tharoor, Prithviraj Chavan and Milind Deora, had written to Sonia Gandhi, asking for a complete revamp of the party’s organisation.

Tharoor had also called for holding elections to appoint the party chief. He had, however, maintained that the elections should be held if Rahul Gandhi does not wish to take over as the party president.

In December, Sonia Gandhi met the dissenters in a bid to address the crisis plaguing the party.

On January 22, the Congress had announced that it will have a new elected president by June. The announcement was made by Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal after a meeting of the party’s working committee.

However, the election was delayed due to the coronavirus situation in the country.