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Congress remains rudderless as chief’s selection is stuck in limbo | Analysis

Several Congress leaders, including former Union minister Karan Singh, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and former Andhra Pradesh legislator M Shashidhar Reddy, have demanded that the party name Rahul Gandhi’s successor for an immediate end to the prevailing uncertainty in the party.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2019 08:18 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Congress, which had slumped to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, managed to win only 52 seats in the 543-member lower house in 2019.
The Congress, which had slumped to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, managed to win only 52 seats in the 543-member lower house in 2019.(AFP)
         

Earlier this month, at a dinner in the Capital, some Congress members of Parliament (MPs) ran into Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, a former Congressman who is one of the most important leaders in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Since Congress president Rahul Gandhi resigned on May 25, Pawar told them, he didn’t know who to speak to in the Congress.

This anecdote, narrated on condition of anonymity by one of the MPs present on the occasion, is illustrative of the state of affairs in India’s grand old party. No one knows who calls the shots – former party president Sonia Gandhi and some of her old associates are believed to be in-charge – and the party doesn’t seem to have made much progress in its search for a new president.

Editorial | Congress must take a call on leadership, urgently

And so, a 134-year old party remains without a leader and also without a clear process to choose one. The Congress Working Committee (CWC), a group of 54 senior leaders, all appointed to the post (the party doesn’t hold internal elections), hasn’t convened since the meeting on May 25 when Gandhi stepped down. He reiterated his intent on July 3 through a four-page note, which he also posted on Twitter.

A senior party functionary who asked not to be named said the CWC, the Congress’s highest decision-making body, is unlikely to meet until it has names to consider. Meanwhile, the party’s coalition government in Karnataka looks likely to fall this week, its government in Madhya Pradesh may be under threat (according to people familiar with the happenings in the state), and its government in Rajasthan is being torn asunder by what is now an open battle between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot.

Several Congress leaders, including former Union minister Karan Singh, Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and former Andhra Pradesh legislator M Shashidhar Reddy, have demanded that the party name Rahul Gandhi’s successor for an immediate end to the prevailing uncertainty in the party.

Reddy has appealed to the leadership to resolve the crisis on a priority basis, saying the delay has already demoralised workers who could switch their loyalties.

In a column on the editorial pages of Hindustan Times, Amarinder Singh called for a “new-look” Congress under a “youth leader”. “Happily for us, there is no dearth of youth icons who have made a name and place for themselves in the party in recent years. It cannot be so hard to pick out one of those names and hand over the party’s reins. All that is needed is the willingness to accept that this is the only way for the Congress to survive and grow, and the will to act in accordance.”

The Congress, which had slumped to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, managed to win only 52 seats in the 543-member lower house in 2019.

The party’s apparent indecisiveness isn’t for want of trying, though.

After all, once Gandhi’s July 3 note indicated that there was no going back on his decision to quit, a group of functionaries, comprising both seniors and young leaders, have been meeting occasionally to find a way forward. The group included: Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Anand Sharma, Jitendra Singh and Deepender Singh Hooda.

Instead, the crisis seems to be, at least in part, engendered by the problem of many in the party not wanting to take anyone other than a Gandhi seriously. For instance, veteran leader Janardan Dwivedi questioned the locus standi of the members of the group.

“Who is selecting the new Congress president? Who has given them that authority,” he asked. “Rahul Gandhi continues to be the Congress president as per the party constitution. On what basis is the election of the new Congress president being done? Who is doing it?” His reference is to the fact that Gandhi’s resignation had not been not accepted by the CWC.

Dwivedi said convention, norms and the party constitution should be followed.

According to the Congress constitution, the party’s senior-most general secretary will take over as its interim chief in case the incumbent resigns.

“In the event of any emergency by reason of any cause such as the death or resignation of the President elected as above, the senior-most general secretary will discharge the routine functions of the President until the Working Committee appoints a provisional President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC [All-India Congress Committee],” it says.

“The President shall preside over the session of the Congress held after his election and during his term of office and he shall exercise all the powers of the Working Committee when it is not in session,” it adds.

In terms of age, 90-year-old Motilal Vora is currently the senior-most general secretary in the party, holding charge of administration. And in terms of experience, it is 70-year-old Ghulam Nabi Azad who is general secretary in-charge of Haryana and also holds the post of the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

Neither leader has been mentioned as a possible successor to Rahul Gandhi, though.

A senior Congress member said that with one school of thought calling for a (relatively) young president, Scindia (48) is a possible candidate for the post, as are Pilot (41) and party general secretary Mukul Wasnik (59).

“We need to act immediately -- this delay of each day is causing great harm to the Congress party. We need leadership that will follow in Rahul Gandhi’s footsteps and that can enthuse our cadre and the voters of India,” Scindia said.

“The Congress is faced with challenging times. We need to be able to enthuse a fighting spirit amongst our rank and file across India. Mr. Gandhi has displayed courage and accountability, and now we must all come together to ensure that we protect the ideals and beliefs that the Congress has always stood for,” Pilot said.

A second senior functionary who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Scindia, Pilot and Wasnik are the names that have been mentioned, but added that the larger debate now seems to be over the process by which the next president will be chosen.

The uncertainty has delayed the party’s preparations for the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Haryana and also put its allies on the edge.

Indeed, some Congress leaders admit in private that it may already be too late.

The NCP has asked the Congress to immediately clear its stand on including the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) of Raj Thackeray in the opposition front. It had earlier sought the appointment of a new Maharashtra Congress chief to start seat-sharing talks in the state. Senior leader Balasaheb Thorat was appointed to the post on Saturday.

The NCP has maintained that it won’t accept anything less than 50% of the total seats in the Maharashtra assembly – 144 out of the 288 – from the Congress this time.

First Published: Jul 18, 2019 07:23 IST

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