Days after some sections within the Congress questioned the absence of an elected party chief, Sonia Gandhi on Saturday asserted that she is a full-time, hands-on party president and leaders need not speak to her through the media.
Without naming anyone, Gandhi, in a message to the G23, said at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting that while every member wants the party's revival, it can happen only with unity, self-control, discipline and by keeping the party's interests paramount.
Her remarks came after some leaders of the group of 23, including Kapil Sibal, who had sought organisational overhaul, recently questioned who in the Congress was taking decisions in the absence of a full-time party president.
Ghulam Nabi Azad and Sibal had also demanded an early meeting of the CWC to discuss the declining fortunes of the party in the wake of recent defections.
"I am, if you will allow me to say so, a full-time and hands-on Congress president," Sonia Gandhi asserted.
The 74-year-old leader underscored that she has always appreciated frankness and in a veiled message to G23 leaders, including Sibal who recently questioned the decision-making process in the party, said "there is no need to speak to me through the media".
"So, let us all have a free and honest discussion. But what should get communicated outside the four walls of this room is the collective decision of the CWC," she said in her opening remarks at the meeting.
Gandhi also placed on the table the party's organisational election schedule before the CWC.
She also pointed out that in the last two years, a large number of Congress leaders, particularly the younger ones, have taken on leadership roles in communicating party policies and programmes to the people.
"Never have we let issues of public importance and concern go unaddressed. You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister as have Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul (Gandhi) ji. I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly," she said and added that the Opposition parties have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well.
About the forthcoming assembly elections, the Congress chief said the party's preparations had already begun a while back and asserted that though there were many challenges, "if we are united, disciplined and focus on the party's interests alone, I am confident that we will do well".
Elaborating on the issues facing the country, the Congress chief noted the CWC is meeting in the background of the continuing agitation by farmers and that it has been over a year since the "three black (farm) laws were bulldozed through Parliament".
Referring to the Lakhimpur Kheri violence in which four farmers were mowed down by an SUV on October 3, she said the shocking incident shows the mindset of the BJP as to how it perceives the farmers' movement and how it has been dealing with this determined struggle by the farmers to protect their lives and livelihoods.
Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra's son Ashish Mishra, who has been named in an FIR, was arrested on Saturday by the Uttar Pradesh Police in connection with the mowing down of four farmers on October 3 in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh.
In her remarks, Gandhi also alleged that the government's only answer for economic recovery is selling off national assets and its single-point agenda was "becho, becho, becho (sell, sell, sell)".
Noting that the Government of India has changed its vaccine procurement policy since the CWC last met in May, she said this has been done in response to the states' demands and was one of those rare occasions when the states were heard and the country benefitted.
"Even so, cooperative federalism remains only a slogan and the Centre loses no opportunity to put non-BJP states at a disadvantage," she alleged.
Gandhi also flagged concerns over the sudden spurt in killings in Jammu and Kashmir and said minorities have been targeted. "This must be condemned in the strongest possible terms."
She also hit out at the government over its foreign policy and said a broad consensus that has been there on it always has been damaged because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "continued reluctance to take the Opposition into confidence in any meaningful manner".
"Foreign policy has become a diabolical instrument of electoral mobilisation and polarisation," Gandhi alleged.
"We face serious challenges on our borders and other fronts. The prime minister telling the opposition leaders last year that there had not been any occupation of our territory by China and his silence ever since is costing our nation dearly."
Sonia Gandhi, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Chief Ministers Ashok Gehlot of Rajasthan, Bhupesh Baghel of Chhattisgarh and Charanjit Channi of Punjab attended the meeting -- the first such physical meeting of the party's highest decision-making body since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.
G23 leaders -- Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma -- were among those present at the meeting at the All India Congress Committee headquarters here.