In May 2012, the Youth Congress boasted of being the only organisation in the world to have more than 1.3 crore (13 million) members. Two years later, when Congress desperately needs this youth wing in one of the most difficult elections the party has fought, it has gone missing.
Ironically, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi put years of hard work revamping and revitalising the party’s youth wings — the Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) — after taking charge of these in 2008.
He spent a lot of time democratising the Youth Congress by holding internal elections. Within three years, the number of members went up to one crore and two rounds of organisational elections were conducted in every state.
But unlike previous elections when Youth Congress members would be unmistakably present at public meetings with organisation flags, running separate enclosures, taking out their own rallies, their presence and enthusiasm is missing this election, say party insiders.
Seniors have started asking questions. They say the youth wing is full of people who prefer armchair politics and shy away from agitations and the heat and dust of a campaign.
“Where is the Youth Congress? Where are its 1.35 crore members? We can’t see them at rallies or even in the booths,” a senior Congress functionary told HT, requesting anonymity. “This is a tough election for the party. They should have been at the forefront.”
Officially, however, the Congress sounds positive. “Youth Congress, NSUI and other frontals have put in insurmountable energy, trust and grassroots level commitment in the Congress campaign which is resonating in constituencies across the country,” said Congress spokesman and former Youth Congress President Randeep Singh Surjewala.
But the past two years have witnessed a huge migration of Youth Congress members to other parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The membership, say Youth Congress sources, has dived in all big states including UP, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
In Tamil, the Youth Congress has dwindled from 11 lakh members in 2012 to 1 lakh today. In Bihar, it had 7.5 lakh members in 2012. Now, it has only 1.5 lakh left.
Prakash Gurjar, for instance, who was the Youth Congress vice president in Gujarat, joined BJP two years ago as VP of the party’s Yuva Morcha. A “disillusioned” Daya Shankar Mishra, former Youth Congress official from Varanasi, joined BJP in April. Virender Kumar Munna, UP Youth Congress general secretary, also joined the BJP in February.
Youth Congress leaders say people have left because of a lack of ideological commitment and attachment to the organisation. Communication between leaders and members has been patchy, they say. Also, a candidate-driven membership process may have backfired.
“There is no self-motivation. Candidates trying just to win the internal elections go on enrolling members without any background check, who are nothing but voters for them,” a Youth Congress functionary said, requesting not to be named.
There have been instances when some “members” didn’t even know they had become a part of the Youth Congress.
“A candidate takes identity cards of friends and acquaintances, and deposits the fee from his pocket. Many don’t even come to know they have become members,” said another Youth Congress office bearer.
Rahul’s democratisation is harshly criticised in private for raising the average cost of become a state president to crores in a large state and Rs. 20-50 lakh even in smaller states. The money goes into buying votes of party workers.
The youth wing was also missing during the historic 2011 anti-corruption agitation led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. ‘In our times, the Youth Congress used to be at the forefront of all big agitations across the country. It has now been relegated to the background,” a senior Congress leader said.
While democratisaion has happened at the state level, no internal elections have taken place at the national level. In spite of having crossed the age bar of 35 years, Rajeev Satav, 39, continues to be the Youth Congress president. He was already 35 when he took over from Ashok Tanwar in February 2010.
“If the model succeeded at the state level, why isn’t it being implemented at the national level? Satav is contesting the Lok Sabha polls and gives no time to the organisation. It is time he is replaced,” a Youth Congress leader said.