Congress President Sonia Gandhi has appointed several leaders to new positions in the party, in an apparent attempt to keep dissenters in the party in check, nearly two weeks after 23 of them wrote her a letter expressing concern about the state of affairs.

Gandhi has appointed Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi deputy to legislature party leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, and Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu as the whip, The Indian Express reported on Friday. In the Rajya Sabha, where Ghulam Nabi Azad, one of the dissenting leaders, is the party’s leader, All India Congress Committee General Secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal has been made part of a new five-member decision-making group. Both Gogoi and Venugopal are considered close to Rahul Gandhi, The Indian Express reported.

Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari, one of the dissidents, was ignored, though he is much senior to Gogoi in the party. Also ignored was Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, also one of the signatories.

Unidentified leaders in the Congress said that both Tewari and Tharoor have lost out because they were signatories to the letter, NDTV reported. The move to constitute a five-member group in the Rajya Sabha is also an attempt to sideline Azad and Sharma, the leaders said.

Jairam Ramesh has been appointed the Congress’ chief whip in the Rajya Sabha. The five-member group in the Rajya Sabha includes, apart from Venugopal and Azad, deputy leader Anand Sharma – a signatory to the letter, Ahmed Patel and Ramesh.

In the Lok Sabha, a similar five-member group has been formed, comprising Chowdhury, Gogoi, chief whip K Suresh, Bittu and Manickam Tagore, who is close to Rahul Gandhi.

“As chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary Party, I have decided to constitute the groups to facilitate and ensure the effective functioning of our party in both Houses of Parliament,” Sonia Gandhi said in an announcement on Thursday evening. “These groups will meet daily during the session and can meet during the inter-session periods as well where Parliament issues are concerned. Joint meetings can be convened as and when needed.”

The letter

The letter written by 23 Congress leaders to party president Sonia Gandhi says that there has been a “steady decline of the party”, as witnessed in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but no “honest introspection” to analyse the reasons for these massive defeats.

“Even after 14 months of the 2019 electoral verdict, the Congress Party has not undertaken any honest introspection to analyse the reasons for its continued decline,” the letter said. “In order to stem the decline, we have taken upon ourselves to be open and frank so that the Congress Party’s future, which presently is at stake, is not jeopardized any further.”

The letter added that Congress workers on the ground are demoralised because of the uncertainty over the leadership. The Congress is yet to appoint a full-time president since Rahul Gandhi resigned following the 2019 Lok Sabha election debacle.

The letter also said the Congress Working Committee was an ineffective institution and its meetings were purely episodic and reacting to contemporary events, rather than being a deliberative body for setting the agenda and for taking policy decisions.