Congress to elect new president by June
The Congress party will hold its internal polls to elect a new president this June, after the upcoming round of assembly elections, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) announced on Friday after brainstorming for at least three hours on internal polls as well as issues such as the farmers’ agitation and the alleged breach of national security as evident in the WhatsApp chat transcripts of journalist Arnab Goswami.
The Congress Election Authority (CEA), the party’s panel in charge of the elections, proposed a timeline between May 15 and 30 to hold organisational elections, although some leaders, particularly those in charge of poll-bound states, said this could clash with the assembly elections. CEA also proposed a schedule for the election of 12 members of the new CWC. At the end, the schedule for both the polls were left for the party president to decide.
If the CWC is eventually formed through an election, it will fulfil a key demand of the 23 signatories to an August letter to the Congress leadership, seeking sweeping changes in the party hierarchy. The last such election took place in 1997. CEA will meet again to decide if the new president will have a full term, or will serve the remainder of the current term that runs till December 2022.
The meeting saw some exchanges between Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, and Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad, two of the signatories to the letter, over the need for an election. Sharma and Azad also wanted the schedule for the election to be decided at the meeting itself. “The Central Election Authority has already given a schedule for conducting election in May , but all CWC members unanimously requested the Congress president that it (party polls) should not affect the election prospects of the Congress party in assembly elections,” said party general secretary Randeep Surjewala, adding that “a little rescheduling will be needed” for the internal polls. Four states -- Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam -- go to the polls in the first half of the year.
While Sharma and Azad stressed on the importance of internal polls, Gehlot said that the need of the hour is to fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and not internally. Gehlot said he had been in the party since 1973-74 but did not remember a time when there was a poll in CWC. Pointing out that BJP president JP Nadda or its former president Amit Shah were not elected, he said that for years people in the Congress had held party posts through nominations.
Elections to CWC were held in Tirupati and Kolkata in 1993 and 1997 under the presidentship of PV Narsimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari respectively.
Sharma, who spoke much after Gehlot, complained that he was being targeted by Rajasthan CM, at which point Ambika Soni reminded him that no names had been taken. She said that the party president has been entrusted to decide the dates, and that the party constitution should be seen to determine how CWC is to be elected. According to a senior leader, Sharma agreed that the Congress president should finalise the schedule of the elections.
KC Venugopal, general secretary, organisation, later told the media, “As per our constitution, little clarities are needed for whether the elections for Congress president and working committee can be held together or working committee election should be held after the Congress president election.”
Rahul Gandhi spoke towards the end of the meeting. He tried to pacify both sides and said both Gehlot and Sharma had raised important points. Rahul Gandhi maintained that the party elections should be held soon but that the need of the hours is to focus on farmers issues and fight against the BJP-RSS.
According to a senior leader who asked not to be named: “Rahul also said, ‘let’s go through with the elections’, and that comment puts to rest any doubt about the party holding polls.” Several Congress leaders are hopeful that the former party chief Rahul Gandhi will return to the top post in the party polls. In the CWC meeting, Gandhi trained his guns at the RSS, terming it as “poisonous” and spoke on farmer issues.
In her opening speech, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the government has shown “shocking insensitivity and arrogance going through the charade of consultation” with the farmers. She maintained that the new farm laws will destroy the foundations of food security that are based on the three pillars of the minimum support price (MSP) , public procurement and PDS (public distribution system). She also reacted to the WhatsApp transcripts of Goswami’s conversations that seemed to suggest he had prior knowledge of a strike against Pakistan and said “national security [has been] thoroughly compromised” . “Yet the silence from the Government’s side on what has been revealed has been deafening. Those who give certificates of patriotism and nationalism to others now stand totally exposed.”
The Congress president hailed the vaccination drive but slammed the government for its handling of Covid. “The government has inflicted untold suffering on the people of our country by the manner in which it has managed the Covid-19 pandemic. It will take years for the scars to heal,” she said. Gandhi also touched upon the “grim economic situation” and said that “large parts of the economy like MSME and the informal sector have been decimated with the Government refusing to extend a lifeline.” “When public expenditure has to be carefully prioritised, it is very painful to find huge amounts of money being allocated and spent on initiatives that can only be described as ‘personal vanity projects’,” she said, in an apparent reference to the Central Vista project.
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