The very public dissent over leadership issues within the Congress, which has been making headlines since August, has not been only about electoral performance. Its policies have also been brought into question by senior leaders.
Today, Anand Sharma, tweeted that the decision to stay away from RCEP, the world’s biggest free-trade deal led by China, was a “backward leap”. His critique comes amid the latest round of criticism by the party’s senior leader Kapil Sibal, who has advised Congress to “recognize that we are in decline” and converse with “experienced people who understand the political realities of India and get people to listen.”
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes 10 Southeast Asian economies besides China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, was virtually signed on Sunday.
With its members accounting for around 30 per cent of global GDP, the RCEP was seen a huge coup by China, which is trying to expand its influence in the zone.
India had said last year that it would stay away from the deal, though it is free to join at any time.
Congress was the first political party to raise concerns and advised caution regarding India’s joining the trade block. The Narendra Modi government skipped it over concerns that the deal would go against big and small manufacturers as the country gets flooded with cheap Chinese goods.
But now senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, who was the commerce minister in the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, said the decision was ill-advised and counter-productive and India should have taken care to safeguard its interests.
“India’s decision of not joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is unfortunate and ill advised. It is in India’s strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia- Pacific integration,” tweeted the 67-year-old,, who was one of the 23 leaders who wrote the first letter of dissent in the first week of August that created turbulence in the party.
“Withdrawal has negated years of persuasive negotiations for India to be accepted as part of RCEP,” read another tweet from Mr Sharma. “We could have negotiated safeguards to protect our interests. Keeping out of the RCEP is a backward leap,” he added.
With the post, Anand Sharma is seen making a political point of moving away from the official position of the Congress — which might spell more controversy for the party.
Mr Sibal’s criticism after Bihar poll results, has been making headlines over the last two days as senior leaders Ashok Gehlot and Salman Khurshid rebutted his claims.
Both Mr Sibal and Mr Sharma were among the authors of the first “dissent letter” regarding leadership that caused an all-out clash within the party in August. It had changed little except key writers being shunted out of party posts.
The letter had suggested sweeping changes after the Congress lost power in Madhya Pradesh after a revolt by Jyotiraditya Scindia and barely saved its Rajasthan government after a rebellion.