A Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in New Delhi on October 16 was unanimous in its demand for Rahul Gandhi to lead the party again. The Congress scion had led the party from December 2017 to May 2019, when he stepped down in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha election debacle. It’s unlikely that a non-Gandhi leader will offer their candidature in the upcoming party election unless the Gandhi family categorically stays away from the process. The election of the national president thus remains a formality.
During the October 16 CWC meeting, party organisational general secretary K.C. Venugopal released the schedule of the long-pending organisational election. The party had finalised a roadmap for electing a regular president by June 30, 2021. However, the second wave of Covid-19 forced the CWC to extend this deadline indefinitely in a meeting held on May 10, 2021. The process will now begin on November 1, 2021, with the enrolment of members for the organisational election and culminate in September 2022 with the election of the national president and members of the CWC. If this exercise is executed as planned, this could dramatically alter the organisational structure of the party.
More importantly, this is exactly what the Group of 23 leaders had demanded in their letter written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi in August 2020. Popularly known as the G23, it included party stalwarts such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Manish Tewari, Shashi Tharoor and Bhupinder Singh Hooda. They sought an organisational overhaul of the party, including elections, right from the block level to the post of national president and CWC members. According to the organisational poll schedule released by Venugopal, elections will be conducted at every level—block, district, state Congress committees and All India Congress Committee (AICC). It means that these new members will also elect new presidents in the blocks, districts, states and at the national level.
Does this mean that the Congress has finally woken up to the challenges it has been facing across the country, namely, a weakening organisational structure, poor or invisible leadership from grassroots to the top and inertia in decision-making? There is no straight answer to the question. On paper, this certainly looks like the much-needed and most desirable roadmap.
But as we have seen in the past, Congress organisational elections are prone to manipulation by leaders with money and muscle power. Rahul Gandhi had introduced elections to the Youth Congress to infuse new blood and meritocracy in the youth wing of the party. But there were several instances when candidates with deep pockets were found wield undue influence in the elections.
So, the impact of these elections will depend on how clean the entire exercise remains and if the party’s election authority can ensure that the deserving and efficient candidates get opportunities to showcase their talent and be a part of the decision-making process within the framework of the party. This is easier said than done in a party that has often shown great resistance to any structural changes.
However, going by the discourse in the CWC meeting, there are several subtle hints that the party high command, particularly the Gandhi family, is aiming for some big-ticket changes in terms of leadership in the states as well as in the AICC. President Sonia Gandhi was quite assertive when she said that she was a full-time hands-on Congress president and there was no need to speak to her through the media. This was a direct dig at the G23 leaders as some of them had released their letter to the media.
But, more importantly, Sonia Gandhi had a word of appreciation for the younger members of the party, an indication perhaps to the veterans that it was time to pave the way for the new generation. “In the past two years, a large number of our colleagues, particularly the younger ones, have taken on leadership roles in taking party policies and programmes to the people–whether it be the agitation of farmers, provision of relief during the pandemic, highlighting issues of concern to the youth and women, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and minorities, price rise and the destruction of the public sector,” said Sonia. This is in sync with the narrative Rahul Gandhi has maintained since he relinquished the post of Congress president in 2019. He openly said that he had been alone in the battle against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as several veterans remained busy promoting their wards.
Since then, he has nurtured and promoted leaders who have shown a zest for working on the ground and the courage to directly attack Modi. If Rahul Gandhi manages to rid the organisational elections of the influence of the veterans, there could be a completely new-look Congress team in place in every state. However, as history shows, outwitting Congress veterans and the ecosystem is easier said than done, though not impossible.Internet Explorer Channel Network