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Congress top post in sight, Rahul tells leaders to adhere to internal poll plan

The fresh poll schedule is divided into five phases, and the party has already declared that the ongoing membership drive will close on May 15.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2017 14:06 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
At the last CWC meeting on November 7, Congress members had expressed their “unanimous and strong sentiments” for 46-year-old Rahul’s immediate elevation to the post of party president.
At the last CWC meeting on November 7, Congress members had expressed their “unanimous and strong sentiments” for 46-year-old Rahul’s immediate elevation to the post of party president.(PTI/ File photo)

Keen on holding internal elections in the party, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has asked its leaders to strictly follow the poll schedule and ensure that the entire process is completed by the election commission’s deadline of December 31.

In a meeting with around 50 Congress leaders on Tuesday, Rahul expounded on how organisational elections hold the key to internal democracy and insisted that pradesh returning officers – who are responsible for conducting organisational elections in states – adhere to the poll plan.

As per the fresh poll schedule circulated by the Congress’ central election authority to all state units and office-bearers, elections to the post of party president will take place between September 16 and October 15. Seventy-year-old Sonia Gandhi holds the record for being the president of the 131-year-old party for almost 19 consecutive years, after taking over from Sitaram Kesri in 1998.

Once the party chief is chosen, elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) – the party’s highest decision making body – will be held at a plenary session in November or December.

The Congress party’s constitution stipulates that while 12 of the 25-member CWC have to be elected by All India Congress Committee (AICC) members, the rest can be appointed by the party chief.

The last Congress plenary – its 83rd session – was held at Burari in New Delhi in December 2010. No CWC elections have been held since 1997, when Kesri was at the helm of the party. Prior to that, organisational elections were conducted in the party after a two-decade gap in 1992 – during Narasimha Rao’s tenure as the Congress chief.

Since 1997, all appointments in the Congress party have been through nominations.

The fresh poll schedule is divided into five phases, and the party has already declared that the ongoing membership drive will close on May 15. While the first stage – comprising enrolment of new members – will end on August 20, the second phase for electing block presidents will conclude on September 4. The third segment, ending on September 15, will involve electing district presidents. This will be followed by the election of state chiefs from September 16 to October 15. The plenary session will mark the completion of the fifth and final phase of the organisational elections by the year-end.

However, Congress leaders suggest that as the plenary could coincide with the assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, there was a possibility of the CWC meeting anytime before that to take a call on Rahul’s elevation.

At the last CWC meeting on November 7, Congress members had expressed their “unanimous and strong sentiments” for 46-year-old Rahul’s immediate elevation. They also sought Sonia’s approval in this regard.

A senior Congress functionary referred to the party constitution to suggest that a change of guard could happen anytime. The Congress constitution gives the CWC special power to take any decision, including the appointment of the party chief, on the condition that the move is ratified by the AICC within six months.

It was on March 14, 1998, that the CWC exercised this provision to appoint Sonia as the Congress president in Kesri’s place. The AICC then ratified the move on April 6, 1998.

The entire process can be completed in one day, with the CWC passing a resolution in the morning and the AICC ratifying the move soon afterwards. In Sonia’s case, the formalities were completed in less than a month. However, a section of the Congress wants Sonia to remain at the helm till March next year, so she can complete a record 20 years as its party chief.

Through her tenure, Sonia had to face competition for the post of party president only once. She defeated Jitendra Prasada – a former Congress vice-president who had served as political advisor to former prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao – by a huge margin on November 9, 2000.