A personality-centric leadership is often blamed for the implosion in the Congress, whose cadre-based system has eroded over the decades. Now, three years after its worst-ever electoral showing, the party is trying to fill its organisational vacuum. Hoping to shed the notion that it is controlled by established leaders and political families, the party wants to now bring back grassroots activists with a genuine connect to various constituency groups — namely farmers, traders, artisans, and students, among others. Highly placed Maharashtra Congress sources revealed that the party top brass is planning to introduce 50 per cent quota in district and block level Congress committee positions across the state to woo such grassroots activists who are not a part of the party fold.
Most leadership positions at the district and block level are currently controlled by supporters of established leaders. Party sources admitted that these positions are often the source of bad blood and disputes, which have left the party riven by factionalism. A senior party insider said the whole idea was to go back to the drawing board. “The party appears to have lost connect with the masses. It needs to induct farmers, youngsters and hard core activists to rekindle this connect.”
Sources said that the Maharashtra Congress had readied a plan in this regard. Senior party leaders are expected to debate it in the next few days; following which it would be referred to the Congress’s central high-command. The party’s central leadership, said sources, also favours the move. If approved, this would be Congress’s biggest overhaul exercise in Maharashtra after the October 2014 Assembly polls, where it won just 44 out of 288 seats. Following the drubbing, some senior party leaders had called for a complete revamp of the party’s structure. But this has so far not taken place. “While there have been some changes, they have largely been cosmetic,” said a former Congress minister.
There is also a plan on how to pool in outside talent, a source said. “Some leaders with mass base are unsure if the Congress can provide them responsible positions in the party organisation. We are planning to publicise attempts to infuse fresh blood. They will be given key positions in the party,” said the source. Another senior Congress leader admitted that the party suffered from a dearth of leaders with good oratorical skills. “We need effective communicators to recapture the imagination of the masses,” the leader said.
The timing of the Congress’s move is also significant. The Maratha reservation stir and the farmers agitation in Maharashtra have witnessed the emergence of new mass leaders, who are not politically affiliated. Although the Congress’s established leaders, too, have tried to lead protests against the BJP-led government, it is this new crop of leaders whose agitations have drawn more mass support. It is clear that the Congress wants to recruit this new talent, and wants to beat the other parties to it.
With past attempts of disturbing the status quo meeting with strong resistance from a section of party leaders, it remains to be seen how this radical step would be received. Incidentally, Mumbai Congress’s attempt at breaking away from the tradition, and setting up a cell of Hindu religious leaders within the party, has got a mixed response, with some senior leaders questioning the move. The party wants to shed the image that it was a party that “appeased Muslims.” But some senior leaders said that setting up a cell of leaders of a particular religion diluted the party’s secular identity. Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam has been defending his move.