Congress likely to set up panel for internal polls
Congress president Sonia Gandhi will soon announce the creation and composition of a new panel tasked to conduct organisational polls to pick a new chief of the party and the members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), three people familiar with the development said on condition of anonymity.
The composition of the new central election authority (CEA) that conducts the organisational polls is currently being discussed and the Congress president is expected to announce the names soon, one of the people, a senior party functionary said.
“Experienced leaders will be part of this election authority,” he added. “It (the creation of the body) is also as per the requirement under the Congress constitution.”
This person’s reference to experienced leaders is significant. Earlier this week, a letter signed by 23 Congress members, including many senior leaders, seeking change in the way the party works so as to strengthen it created a stir in the party. A hurriedly-called CWC meeting discussed the timing of the letter but not its contents. Soon after, organisational announcements by the party, including for parliamentary roles, saw preference being given to younger leaders perceived to be closer to former party president Rahul Gandhi.
The previous CEA, headed by present Kerala Congress president Mullapally Ramachandran, was dissolved soon after the election of Rahul Gandhi as the party chief in December 2017. Madhusudan Mistry and Bhubaneswar Kalita, who is now in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were its other two members.
Rahul Gandhi resigned from the post in May last year following the party’s rout in the general elections and Sonia Gandhi took over as its interim president in August last year.
At Monday’s CWC meeting, Sonia Gandhi agreed to continue on the post till a new president is elected and an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session is convened. The CWC also authorised her to carry out organisational changes.
The letter, written by leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Prithviraj Chavan, Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, sought, among other things, complete reorganisation of the party, a full-time president and internal polls from block level to CWC.
Four of the 23 dissenters who are members of the CWC – Azad, Wasnik, Sharma and Jitin Prasada – came under attack at the stormy meeting for allegedly questioning the leadership of the Gandhi family.
In their letter, the dissenters outlined an 11-point agenda to usher in reforms in the 134-year-old organisation. One of the points was constitution of an independent election authority.
According to the Congress constitution, the CEA chairman is the ex-officio returning officer for the election of party president.
At Monday’s meeting, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi asked the CWC to hold the organisational elections within one month but some members, including Azad, maintained that it was not feasible because of Covid-19. Finally, an upper limit of six months was fixed for completing the internal elections.
The last time an election was held to the president’s post was in 2000 when Sonia Gandhi comprehensively defeated Jitendra Prasada, father of Jitin Prasada. That was the only time Sonia Gandhi faced a contest during her over 20 years as Congress chief.
As per the Congress constitution, 12 of the 25 CWC members have to be elected by AICC delegates and the rest are appointed by the Congress president.
The CWC has not seen an election in over two decades now. The last time there were elections to the CWC was in 1997 during the Kolkata plenary. Prior to that, the CWC polls took place in 1992 at the Tirupati session.
Meanwhile, Jitin Prasada, one of the 23 signatories, said that contents of the letter were being misconstrued and insisted he has full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. He said the letter was not to undermine their leadership but to suggest ways to rejuvenate the party.
Two other signatories Akhilesh Prasad Singh and Kaul Singh Thakur also expressed their full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Tharoor, too, has called for an end to the ongoing debate over the letter. Still, the appointments made on Thursday are seen as an attempt to sideline the dissenters.
Gandhi named Gaurav Gogoi as the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, overlooking Tewari and Tharoor.
She also formed a panel each for the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha for formulating the party’s strategy in Parliament, effective coordination and better floor management. Azad, Sharma, Ahmed Patel, KC Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh are in the group for the Rajya Sabha while Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, Gogoi, K Suresh, Manickam Tagore and Ravneet Singh Bittu are in the panel for the Lok Sabha.