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Chop the deadwood

Sonia Gandhi must examine whether it would be worthwhile to restore the Congress Parliamentary Board, writes Pankaj Vohra.
Hindustan Times | By Pankaj Vohra
UPDATED ON APR 02, 2008 06:59 PM IST

A lot has been written about Sonia Gandhi’s ten years as the Congress president, a feat unmatched in the annals of the 123-year-old party. Articles have complimented her for leading the party to victory in 15 states and bringing it back to power at the Centre by getting allies on board on the anti-communal plank.

There is no doubt that Ms Gandhi has achieved what many others could never do. What makes her achievements creditable is the way she has put the party back on the centrestage, even without holding any government position. The challenge was stiff as unlike her late husband Rajiv Gandhi and mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, arguably the greatest mass leader of the last century, Ms Gandhi has never been the Prime Minister. Her decision of not accepting the PM’s post only elevated her status further. She knew that with the kind of criticism that had been floating around, she would be in a vulnerable position if she took the PM’s post. But declining the offer meant that she as the Congress chief would be one of the most-powerful presidents of all time.

Now having reached a milestone, Ms Gandhi is in an envious position; she must restore some of the old values associated with the party. Even though the distribution of the recent Rajya Sabha tickets has left much to be desired — some of the chosen candidates are liabilities than assets to the party — she has to set the agenda for herself and the Congress for the next ten years.

For instance, there has to be some compelling reason for picking up the likes of Ishwar Singh, a non-entity from Haryana who was with Devi Lal’s party and the Haryana Vikas Party. Singh’s case is similar to those who got the Congress tickets for the UP and Gujarat polls even before they joined the party. There are some who got the Rajya Sabha ticket soon after joining the Congress but have played no role in improving the party’s chances in their regions. Like these Rajya Sabha MPs, some office-bearers of the AICC are also liabilities. If anyone has brought the party this far, it is Ms Gandhi alone. Unfortunately, some leaders close to her have often mislead her on important decisions. Though these decisions were accepted due to her stature, few of these have left the party cadres dissatisfied and wondering.

Ms Gandhi, therefore, must examine whether it would be worthwhile to restore the Congress Parliamentary Board (CPB), the supreme decision-making mechanism which was disbanded by the late P.V. Narasimha Rao when he was the party chief and PM. After he took over, Rao thought that this mechanism did not suit his style and did away with the party’s decision making. For any decision pertaining to any state, he would merely call the concerned general secretary or ask for a meeting of the general secretaries and take a call. Sometimes such decisions were not rational and against the interests of the organisation. And, the Congress started losing its base.

When Rahul Gandhi spoke about the need for inner-party democracy recently, one thought that he wanted to bring back some positive things associated with the party. Many thought that there would be elections for the working committee and this would cut some general secretaries down to size because they draw their power due to their proximity to Ms Gandhi and not from either the people or the activists.

But Rahul played down his remarks. He said that he had meant bringing inner-party democracy to the Youth Congress and National Students’ Union of India, the two organisations under his charge. But his comment has given the hope that the young leader, who may take over the reigns in the future, has an open mind on the subject.

However, this is not to suggest that Ms Gandhi does not favour inner-party democracy. Unfor-tunately, she has had to deal with so many problems in the last few years that she never got the time to apply her mind to these good practices. Many of her advisors, who feel important because they are consulted on major decisions even though they don’t understand the issues or state politics, use the existing mechanism to keep others out. And, if decisions are taken at a larger forum, they would be exposed before Ms Gandhi. The status quo suits them more than it suits the Congress chief who has always met challenges head on. What, however, hurts is when these incompetent people give wrong advice and they are accepted by the trusting president. It harms the party.

As the Congress chief enters the next decade of her presidentship, she must ensure accountability and correct advice. From 14, the number of Congress-ruled states has come down to half, but still the same people rule the roost. The party has to distinguish between liabilities and assets before the forthcoming assembly and parliamentary polls. The Congress can only resuscitate itself if it follows the positive practices of the past and not rely on those who have no answers. Between us.

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