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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 38, New Delhi, September 5, 2020

A non Gandhian President for the Congress Party: Need of the Hour | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 4 September 2020

by P. S. Jayaramu

The debate over the need for change in the Presidentship of the Congress Party has been going on for over an year following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as Party President in July 2019. Since then he has consistently turned down pleas for his return as Party President, something which was endorsed by his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra a few weeks ago. The most recent of such being Sonia Gandhi’s willingness to resign as interim President at the recent virtual CWC meeting. Sadly, the meeting did not take up the issue of changes suggested by the G-23 about the need for a visible and accessible leadership, election to the CWC along with election to the Party President’s post at the district level to promote inner party democracy and the reestablishment of the Central Parliamentary Board to guide the functioning of the Party in the Parliament. Instead, the Gandhi loyalists at the CWC termed it a revolt, accusing some of the signatories of acting at the behest of the BJP. The meeting ended with a request to Sonia Gandhi to continue as interim President till the AICC meeting could be held at an appropriate time in the next six months.

Though Mrs. Gandhi concluded by striking a conciliatory note that ‘bygones are bygones, those who wrote letters are my valued colleagues and that no action would be initiated against them, that was only a glib statement. Two days later, Mrs. Gandhi set up two groups to handle the upcoming Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions leaving out the deserving senior leaders from the G-23 signalling their marginalisation in the Party and rewarded the loyalists.

On their Part, senior members of the the Group of 23 have kept up their demand for changes. In an interview to ANI, Gulab Nabi Azad, emphasised the need for elections to the CWC, State PCCs and district boards arguing that those who win with 51 percent votes enjoy legitimacy and that such elected persons cannot be removed at will. He even went to the extent of saying that if inner party elections are not held, the Congress Party will have to sit in the opposition for the next 50 years!

Kapil Sibal has stressed that the letter was drafted in an extremely civilised in manner and expressed his anguish that their letter was not only not even taken up for discussion at the CWC meeting nor the senior members silenced those who attacked them at the meeting.

A minister of the Maharashtra cabinet warned the signatories from the State that the signatories to the letter from the State will not be allowed to move freely in the State if they failed to apologise to Sonia Gandhi. That he was not been reprimanded by the Party’s central leadership for such utterances shows that he enjoys the tacit support at the highest level. Lauding the services of the Gandhis, another member of the Party recently coined the slogan ‘Gandhis are Congress, Congress is Gandhis’, reminiscent of D K Baroough’s slogan ‘Indira is India, India is Indira’!

That the generally sauve Salman Khursheed has praised the Gandhis for their leadership and condemned the letter only goes to show that the Gandhis have emerged stronger after the well orchestrated CWC meeting. For the Gandhis and their loyalists, dynasty is more important that the Party. This is an extremely disappointing and undemocratic development.

Keeping in mind the fact the 135 years old Congress Party was led by many important leaders from outside the dynasty in the post independence period like J B Kripalani, Pattabhi Seetaramaiah, Purushottam Das Tandon, K Kamaraj, N Sanjeeva Reddy, S Nijalingappa, Uma Shankar Dikshit, P V Narasimha Rao, to name only a few, the Party does not have to be the prisoner of the Gandhi family.

The fact that the country needs a strong Opposition to ensure that the Parliamentary system functions on healthy democratic lines, it is imperative that the Party chooses a group of well wishers, and entrust them with the task of overseeing the elections to the post of Party President. Rahul Gandhi should play the role of a facilitator in finding a suitable person to be democratically elected to the post of President. Needless to say, the democratically elected President should function independently and not be remote controlled by the Gandhi dynasts. The Country needs a strong opposition to confront effectively the Modi Government which has failed to tackle the disastrous economic consequences of the pandemic, with a record fall of GDP by 23.9 percent,the worst in 40 years.

It is also critical for the Party to work towards making it cadre based, boost the morale of the Party workers and overcome factional feuds, which is the bane of the Congress. It is equally imperative that the Party rediscovers its left of the centre ideology within a renewed commitment to the values enshrined in our Constitution.

One final point. If the Gandhi loyalists thwart organisational elections, as an alternative, the pro changers should push forward the idea of establishing a collective leadership to steer the Party in the foreseeable future. After all, the G-23 letter to the interim President also demanded a collective leadership within a participatory framework. The first step in that direction should be to draw up a group consisting of capable men/women, giving representation to the north, east, west and South. With support from the seniors and middle aged experienced Partymen, such a group should be able to work out strategies through a well laid out consultative process involving State level leaders, to handle the crucial issues facing the Party. Such a plan of action is possible, but calls for strong political will to make the Party future ready.

The author is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.

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