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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 32, New Delhi, July 24, 2021

Sonia Gandhi reconstitutes Parliamentary groups, retains control over the Party | P S Jayaramu

Friday 23 July 2021

(20th July, 2021)

With the objective of ensuring that the Congress Party plays an active role in the Parliament during the monsoon session and later, a series of moves have been initiated by the interim President of the Party Sonia Gandhi. To realise her objective and to neuralise the G-23 who had publicly criticised the functioning of the Party in the last one year, Mrs. Gandhi has announced certain changes in the working of the Party in the two Houses of the Parliament. She has ended the speculation that the leader of the Party in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury would be replaced by Rahul Gandhi. The decision could be because Rahul Gandhi may have declined to accept the responsibility as he knows that the position would tie him down to being physically present in the House, which he is not known for. He would rather like to retain the freedom of being in and out of the Lok Sabha whenever he wants, confining himself to his favourite task of mounting sharp criticisms of Prime Minister Modi for for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the economic situation, the Chinese challenge etc. There were rumours that Shashi Tharoor or Manish Tewari would be made the leader of the Party in the Lok Sabha. But, by not appointing any of them to the position as both of them are members of the G-23 and whom she does not easily trust, Mrs. Gandhi has chosen to retain the ever loyal Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in the job.

Mrs. Gandhi has inducted Manish Tewari in to the Lok Sabha group to neutralise the G-23. She expects him to use his articulation skills to pin down the Modi Government. Furthermore, by appointing members like Assam Lok Sabha M.P. Gaurav Gogai as deputy leader, K. Suresh as chief whip, Ravneet Singh Bittu and Manickam Tagore as members of the Lok Sabha group, Sonia Gandhi has given representation to the young and the old, to ensure wider consultations to take on the treasury benches. In the process, she has succeeded in ensuring the continued hold of the Gandhi dynasty over the Party. It is well known that Gogai, Bittu, Suresh and Manickam Tagore are hard core loyalists of Rahul Gandhi.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Party is led by the disciplined soldier and senior member Mallikarjun Kharge who was brought in to the upper house by Mrs. Gandhi after the completion of Gulam Nabi Azad’s term in february 2021. She has also taken care to include the veteran parliamentarian P. Chidambaram in to the Rajya Sabha group, as he can forcefully take on the Government, specially on issues relating to the economic distress, price rise, inflation and unemployment. Mrs. Gandhi has packed the Rajya Sabha group with other capable, but loyal, members like Jairam Ramesh, Ambika Soni, K Venugopal and Digvijaya Singh. Care has been taken to rope in the G-23 group and thus keep it happy by bringing in Anand Sharma, as deputy leader of the House. All in all, experienced senior members have been made members to help the party play an effective role in the upper house.

As announced by Mrs.Gandhi, these groups will meet daily during the session and inter session periods to plan the Party’s strategy to put the Government on the mat. A better functioning of the party would go a long way in enhancing it’s credibility in popular perception.

The parliamentary groups will have multiple roles like mustering the support of other Opposition Party leaders to counter the key, but controversial, bills to be introduced by the ruling party. Proper floor combination with the Opposition parties in the parliament is another objective as also to decide on the extent of possible cooperation with the Government. Sonia Gandhi is placing a special responsibility on the Rajya Sabha leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who is known for taking a hard line in projecting the Party’s position in the House.

The Party already has two panels, one headed by Rahul Gandhi to look into the broader issues regarding the functioning of the Parliament and a smaller group headed by P. Chidambaram, with his enormous legal experience, to carefully scrutinise the bills going to be moved by the Government.

Additionally, the groups are entrusted with the task of deciding on the issues to be raised on a priority basis with an eye on the support of the voters and the media. Constituting the groups is a good move but, it casts a huge responsibility on the Congress members to behave responsibly by overcoming the temptation to stage walk outs and troop in to the well of the House at the earliest pretext. All in all, the moves initiated by Sonia Gandhi have the objectives of projecting a better image of the Party in the Parliament, that of neutralising the G-23 and ensuring the continued hold of the Gandhi dynasty over the grand old Party. Realising the third objective is of paramount importance to the family as the prospects of holding organisational elections, specially that of electing the Party President in the near future, appear dim. Mallikarjun Kharge let the cat out when he said recently that elections to the post of Party President would take place after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is hard to guess when the pandemic will end. With elections to the five State Assemblies scheduled for March 2022, it may be futile to expect a newly elected President to head the Congress. Sonia Gandhi, who has been President of the Party for over twenty years, excluding the two year’s interim Presidentship she will be completing by August this year, is undoubtedly an astute and experienced politician and strategist. She will be abundantly assisted by the Gandhi loyalists in the family’s endeavour to retain control over the party.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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