Internal polls, dialogue with cadres: How the Congress party plans to resurrect itself
The Congress party is witnessing a flurry of activity, including meetings of senior leaders from states that will go to polls in the recent future and organisational changes, to reinvigorate its cadre after the drubbing in the recent assembly elections.
While Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is actively involved in bringing all the opposition parties on one platform for the upcoming presidential elections, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi has initiated a dialogue with the rank and file in a bid to revive the organisation.
In the past few weeks, Sonia, 70, has met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav and CPI’s D Raja to discuss the combined opposition strategy for the presidential polls. The leaders have called for the need to field a consensus candidate to defeat the NDA’s nominee.
On the other hand, Rahul is meeting 40-50 party leaders from different states in batches to discuss the internal elections and also the ways to resurrect the Congress and stem the electoral slide that started with its debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress V-P is also forming a group of volunteers, who will be deployed in states going to polls in the run-up to the 2019 general elections to re-establish connect with the masses. One of the reasons for its repeated electoral failures has been identified as the “disconnect” with the voters across the country.
Rahul, 46, also met party leaders from the northeast and asked them to reach out to the disgruntled leaders in their respective states to put an end to desertions. He stressed on the need to stop the BJP surge in the region and thwart any attempt by the saffron party to create dissensions in the Congress ranks.
The Congress V-P asked party leaders to focus on poll-bound states. While Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland will go to polls in February next year, assembly elections are due in Mizoram in November 2018. Polls will be held in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh along with the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The party lost the assembly elections in Assam last year and failed to form the government in Manipur despite being the single largest party in the polls held in March this year.
The Congress leadership has also made some organisational changes in the past few days, appointing former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot as party general secretary in-charge of poll-bound Gujarat.
Gehlot replaced former Union minister Gurudas Kamat, who had requested the Congress high command to relieve him of all organisational responsibilities following his serious differences with Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and general secretary Mohan Prakash over their style of functioning.
In another development, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh was divested of the charge of Goa and Karnataka. The sacking of Singh, a rare move in the grand old party, came in view of the Goa fiasco that saw the BJP return to power despite the Congress emerging as the largest party. It was widely seen as a clear message that the leadership will no longer shy away from acting tough in such cases.
Similarly, he was removed from Karnataka on the request of a large number of state leaders and legislators who had complained against him.
The growing rebellion was threatening to affect the party’s chances of retaining power in the southern state that goes to polls in April-May next year. Though the BJP is trying hard to make a comeback in Karnataka, the bitter infighting could jeopardise the saffron party’s efforts to cash in on the anti-incumbency against the ruling Congress.
And this week, the leadership appointed 35 Pradesh Returning Officers (PROs) to conduct organisational polls that have to be completed by December 31 this year as per the Election Commission deadline. Rahul has maintained that organisational elections hold the key to internal democracy and insisted that PROs must adhere to the poll plan.
As per the fresh poll schedule circulated by the party’s central election authority to all the state units and office bearers, the elections for the post of the Congress president will take place between September 16 and October 15.
Once the party chief is chosen, it will be followed by the elections to the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body, at the plenary session in November-December. According to the Congress constitution, 12 of the 25-member CWC have to be elected by All India Congress Committee (AICC) members, and the rest are appointed by the party president.
The fresh poll schedule has been divided into 5 phases and the party has already declared that the ongoing membership drive will close on May 15. While the first stage comprising enrollment of new members will end on August 20, the second phase of polls to elect block presidents will conclude on September 4.
The third segment ending on September 15 will witness the elections to district presidents followed by state chiefs in the fourth phase from September 16 to October 15. The plenary session will mark the completion of the fifth and final phase of the organisational elections by the year-end.