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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 46, New Delhi, October 30, 2021

Where is the Congress Party heading after the Working Committee meeting? | P S Jayaramu

Friday 29 October 2021

by P S Jayaramu

18th October 2021

The much-awaited Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting is over. There was speculation that it would be a stormy affair with the ‘reformists’ openly criticising the leadership for the sorry state of affairs in the Party and demand a discussion on the report of the Committee which went into the dismal performance of the Party in the recent assembly elections. Going by media reports, no such thing happened at the meeting. On the contrary, the CWC meet turned out to be a show of loyalty to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership and a chorus demand for Rahul Gandhi to accept the Presidentship of the Party again. There are no reports about what did Ghulab Nabi Azad, one of the first in the G-23 to speak up, say at the meeting. Has he bought peace with the Gandhis? A scrutiny of the deliberations at the CWC meeting is timely.

It is well known that Sonia Gandhi has watched the working of the Party from very close quarters as Rajiv Gandhi’s wife when he was Prime Minister and as President of the Party since 1998. She knows the present lot of senior members quite well, having assessed their strengths and weaknesses, their utility and liability to the Party. No wonder, she asserted in her speech that she is the ‘ full-time and hands-on President’ of the Party. She had an unfair dig at Kapil Sibal and others that they don’t have to talk to her through the media, when it is a known fact that even for the seniors it is difficult to meet her, leave alone discuss party affairs. They have to talk to her through her close confidants. As such, some of them going to the press was inevitable in the interests of the Party. About her being a hands-on President, it is pretty well-known that due to health reasons, she has in effect been a hands-off President, having delegated powers of decision making to Rahul and Priyanka Vadra, ( the family constitute the triumvirate or the trioka in the Party) as is known from the abrasive manner in which Capt. Amarinder Singh was removed as Chief Minister of Punjab.

The CWC decided the schedule for elections to the Party Positions, ranging from block level to the post of President of the Party, to be held between August-September 2022. While the decision is welcome, the message is out that Rahul Gandhi would be formally elected as Party President as he assured that he would look into the chorus demand for him to be Party President again.

It remains to be seen whether the G-23 would participate in the election. If it is serious about strengthening the inner party democracy, it should put up a credible candidate, not necessarily from within the group, but by persuading a capable person from outside it. The group should expand itself and win over deserving and potential younger leaders like Sachin Pilot, who is knowledgeable about the problems facing the party and the country. He is a good communicator in Hindi and English, which will make him acceptable to partymen and the larger electorate from the non-Hindi belt. His talent is simply being wasted.

Further, if the G-23 is really interested in challenging the hold of the Gandhi family and is toying with the idea of splitting the Party, ( it is no joke) it should expand itself by bringing into its fold members at the regional level to give the group a pragmatic ideological orientation to resonate with the voter’s expectations. Powerful regional satraps may have to be roped in if the G-23’s project of challenging the existing leadership is to fructify. Are they willing and ready for it is not clear. Alternatively, as an expanded pressure group within the Party, it should carry forward its demand for greater transparency in intra-party decision making.

As Rahul Gandhi has acceded to take on the mantle of party leadership again, he should use the period from now to sepetmber next to make the Party stronger by ensuring that only deserving and capable people get elected at the district and state level to Party positions and not allow wheeler-dealers to control the Party. The dynasty has to demonstrate that the Party is not their fiefdom. It is their duty to see that the Party does not remain a banyan tree under them, giving only shade but not allowing others to grow.

As for ideology, the Party must realise that the Preamble of the Indian Constitution is the only viable ideological template to protect the plural character of our democracy and society as well as to serve the poor, the under-privileged and the educated middle class, who constitute the bulk of India’s electorate. A radical leftist posture alone will not endear it to the voters. It must strive for the right mix by pushing for a left of the centre position to be in the electoral race in 2024.

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

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