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As EC takes poll position, Congress questions the time

The Indian Express explains organisational elections in Cong — process, history and how current situation was reached.

Written by Manoj C G |
February 10, 2017 12:04:25 am
election commission, congress, congress elections, rahul gandhi, congress internal elections, organisational elections, uttar pradesh elections, Congress’s constitution, Central Election Authority, CWC, sonia gandhi, indian express news, indian express explained, india news, elections updates The reason for the delay in holding the organisational elections is widely thought to be the uncertainty over Rahul Gandhi’s elevation to succeed Sonia Gandhi. File photo

EC wants Congress internal elections by June; party says the panel can’t set deadline, and it needs until December.

What does the Congress’s constitution say about organisational elections?

At its 83rd plenary in Burari on the outskirts of Delhi in December 2010, the Congress amended its constitution to allow for the holding of organisational elections once every 5 years instead of 3, and extended the party president’s term from 3 years to 5. These rules have, however, mostly remained on paper, both before and after 2010. Thus, Sitaram Kesri was elected president in 1997 but ejected in March 1998, and Sonia Gandhi became the party chief. She was re-elected 3 years later in 2001, but her third appointment came after 4 years — in 2005. She became president for the fourth time 5 years later, in 2010. Seven years on, she remains in charge.

Read | Uttar Pradesh Election 2017: Congress promises ‘qarza maaf, bijli half’ in manifesto

According to the Congress’s constitution, organisational elections must be held for posts from the president down to the primary unit. The electoral college for the president consists of Pradesh Congress Committee delegates, who were 7,946 strong in 2010. Members of the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decisionmaking body, are supposed to be elected by the All India Congress Committee, the executive assembly of the party.

So the elections that were due in 2015 were not held?

No, even though the party did begin the process soon after its defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. That September, it appointed Lok Sabha MP Mullappally Ramachandran as chairman of its Central Election Authority, which conducts the polls. Biren Singh Engti, Ashk Ali Tak and Shamsher Singh Dullo are other members of the body, which planned to hold the elections in phases from July to September 2015. Accordingly, the party began a membership drive.

What happened then?

The drive received a lukewarm response, and the party was forced to extend the deadline for its closure several times. Officially, the Congress said the process was delayed because it wanted to ensure the quality of enrolment and of the elections. This meant making changes to the process, including reverting to holding organisational polls every 3 years and commensurately reducing the tenure of the president and office bearers. Also, the CWC decided to allow online enrolment, revert to the old system of dual (active and primary) membership, and provide 50% reservation in the organisation in states to SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. Amid all this, the party extended the deadline for conclusion of the membership drive from December 31, 2014 to February 28, 2015, and then to May 15 and June 15.

How did the EC enter the picture?

On May 26, 2015, the Election Commission wrote to the Congress asking about the status of the organisational elections. On June 6, the party replied, saying the process was ongoing. On September 8, 2015, the CWC met to extend the deadline for conclusion of internal elections by a year and, 8 days later, the party wrote to the EC, asking for a year’s extension of the election’s scheduled December 2015 date. On November 4, the EC wrote back, allowing the extension until December 2016, and asking to be informed about the new officebearers by January 10, 2017. However, the party did not conduct the elections in 2016 either, and sought, on December 16, 2016, another extension until December 31, 2017.

Officially, the Congress’s excuse was that it hadn’t been able to hold membership drives due to Assembly polls in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu, and because of drought and floods in several other states. However, the real reason is believed to be the uncertainty over Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as president.

And how did the Commission react?

It rejected the plea for a second extension, and wrote to the Congress on January 5 this year asking it to complete the process by June 30, and furnish details before July 15. The Congress responded that “on a jurisdictional basis”, it did not believe that the EC could “fix a date for any political party, not only us”. It was “fully ready” to hold the polls, it said, “but on a deferment, after we have got all the lists updated”.

When was the last time that elections in the true sense were held for the post of Congress president?

2001, when Jitendra Prasada contested against Sonia and was thrashed 7,448 votes to 94. In 1997, Kesri had defeated heavyweights Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot, winning 6,224 votes against their 882 and 354 respectively.

While Subhas Chandra Bose’s defeat of Gandhi’s candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya at the 1939 Tripuri session is well known, post Independence, there have been only two other occasions when a contest has taken place. In 1950, Purushottam Das Tandon beat Acharya J B Kripalani for the post, and in May 1977, a couple of months after Indira Gandhi lost power, K Brahmananda Reddy defeated Siddhartha Shankar Ray. On all other occasions, the CWC has decided the president in advance, leaving only the motions to be gone through. In the states, the practice has been for the PCC — usually riven by factionalism — to authorise the party president to appoint its chief.

What about the CWC?

According to the Congress constitution, 12 of the CWC’s 25 members are to be elected. But in the last 45 years, elections to the CWC have been held only twice — 1992, when P V Narasimha Rao was president, and 1997, under Kesri’s presidentship. At the 1969 Bombay plenary, after the split in the Congress, an election was averted at the last minute through pressure and cajoling. ‘Young Turk’ Chandra Shekhar was included among the 10 “unanimously elected” candidates.

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