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Election or nomination? Cong divided over CEC

NEW DELHI: As more details of Friday’s Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting emerged, it is now clear that the new bone of contention between party leaders who in August called for an overhaul of the organisation and staunch loyalists of the leadership is a demand that members of the Central Election Committee (CEC) be elected, not nominated
By Sunetra Choudhury
PUBLISHED ON FEB 07, 2021 11:39 PM IST

NEW DELHI: As more details of Friday’s Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting emerged, it is now clear that the new bone of contention between party leaders who in August called for an overhaul of the organisation and staunch loyalists of the leadership is a demand that members of the Central Election Committee (CEC) be elected, not nominated.

Hindustan Times has spoken to several delegates who attended the meeting, including signatories to the letter written in August to interim chief Sonia Gandhi in which they demanded a “full-time and effective” leadership that is “visible” and “active.” The people, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the schedule for elections to the post of president and CWC members was accepted, but a spat ensued when the demand was voiced for even CEC members to be elected..

The demand was articulated by Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, his deputy Anand Sharma, and former finance minister P. Chidambaram, who wasn’t a signatory to the original letter, but supported elections to the CEC, the people said. They said CEC members should be chosen by the same electoral college that takes part in the election of the president.

The CEC, headed by Sonia Gandhi, selects the party’s candidates to all elections and so is a very powerful body. At present, its members include Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, senior leaders AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik, KC Venugopal, Mohsina Kidwai, Girija Vyas, Janardan Dwivedi, M Veerappa Moily and Oscar Fernandes.

The oppositionto the proposal was initially in the form of a healthy debate. Antony opposed the proposal in what one letter writer described as a “sober manner.” Soni asked if an election to the CEC would require an amendment to the Congress’s constitution and Sharma clarified that it didn’t.

It was around that point of time that Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot used “harsh words” against the letter writers to their shock. Since the December 19 meeting with Gandhi, there had been a feeling that a rapproachment was in the works, especially with Venugopal and Soni reaching out to the letter writers to understand their concerns and implement reforms within the party.

Speaking in Hindi, Gehlot is learnt o have questioned the need for the 23 leaders to send such a letter in the first place. “Nobody even knows your names, nobody recognises you,’’ Gehlot is learnt to have said. To which Sharma responded: “That may well be true. I don’t have any identity but that of the Indian National Congress. And it’s because of that our face and name are known. And that’s why you are also known. This is not the way to talk. Nobody has given you the authority to insult your colleagues.’’

Rahul Gandh then intervened. “I can understand the emotion that Ashok Gehlot had expressed (his views with) and what he was feeling, but at the same time I agree with Anand Sharma ji and feel that harsh words should never have been spoken,” people who attended the meeting quoted him as saying.

A letter writer said the delegates were taken aback by the Rajasthan CM’s words. “Just because he is a chief minister, it doesn’t give him authority over us. There are six former chief ministers among the letter writers,’’ said this person.

Hindustan Times reached out to CM Gehlot’s office, but received no response. A spokesperson for the Congress denied that there had been any harsh exchange of words at the meeting.

While the letter writers want elections at all levels and the CEC is one such forum, a former CWC member told HT that the CEC’s membership carried the kind of prestige that even the CWC, the party’s top decision making body, didn’t have. “It’s the only one where a member can feel important and seems to influence who gets a party ticket,’’ he said.

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