Let him go” was Rahul Gandhi’s blunt reply when told that Himanta Biswa Sarma, once the Congress’ key leader in Assam, had the support of a majority of MLAs and would rebel and quit the party, Ghulam Nabi Azad writes in his autobiography “Azaad”.
Azad, a former Congress loyalist who quit the party in August 2022 and launched his own regional party, also targets Sonia Gandhi and says she did not assert herself as party president “despite understanding the disastrous consequences that lay ahead”.
Sarma, who went on to join the BJP and is the chief minister of Assam, was an important Congress strategist. Ten MLAs followed him when he quit the party in September 2015 over differences with the Congress leadership in Assam.
“Rahul told us bluntly that there would be no change in leadership. We pointed out to him (Rahul) that Himanta had the majority of MLAs and would rebel and quit the party. ‘Let him go,’ Rahul said. The meeting was over,” Azad, 74, says in his autobiography that will release next month.
Azad, who is chairperson of the newly formed Democratic Progressive Azad Party, says Rahul Gandhi “mismanaged” the Sarma episode.
Sarma, 54, was appointed chief minister in 2021, just five years after leaving the Congress, after he ensured a second consecutive win for the BJP in Assam.
According to Azad, he was not sure if Rahul said what he did “to assert himself or because he was ignorant that his decision would have far-reaching consequences, not only in the state of Assam but the entire Northeast”.
The former leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha says he apprised Sonia Gandhi of the new “twist in the tale” after the interaction with Rahul Gandhi.
“… it is rather unfortunate that she did not assert herself as the party president. Instead, she asked me to request Himanta to not rock the boat,” Azad writes.
From devising a strategy with Indira Gandhi to bring Rajiv into politics and convincing Sonia to become the party chief to his mediation efforts in the tussle between Rahul Gandhi and Himanta Biswa Sarma, Ghulam Nabi in “Azaad” explores the challenges of leadership and the consequences of daring to bring fresh thinking into the political landscape, the publishers Rupa said in a statement.