The top decision-making body of the Congress party, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), met on Sunday (March 13) to discuss its crushing defeat in the Assembly elections in five states.
Sources said that amid the familiar — and widely expected — offer by Sonia Gandhi and her children Rahul and Priyanka to “sacrifice” anything for the party, the other leaders asked her to continue to lead, at least until August-September, when elections to the post of Congress president are due.
Sonia (75), became Congress president in August 2019, after Rahul Gandhi resigned in the wake of the Congress’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, having served for less than two years on the post. Before that, Sonia had been president continuously from 1998 to 2017.
The Working Committee is the “highest executive authority” of the Congress, and has the final say in interpreting and applying the provisions of the party’s constitution.
According to the Congress constitution, the CWC shall consist of the president of the party, its leader in Parliament, and 23 other members, of whom 12 will be elected by the All India Congress Committee (AICC, the party’s central decision-making assembly), and the rest shall be appointed by the party president.
The CWC technically has the power to remove or appoint the party president.
The CWC is generally recast after the election or re-election of the Congress president. The CWC can be reconstituted during the AICC’s plenary session that follows the election or re-election, or after the president is authorised by the session to reorganise it.
In the last 50 years or so, Congress leaders recall, genuine elections have been held only twice. On both occasions, a person outside the Nehru-Gandhi family was at the helm.
In 1992, at the AICC’s plenary session in Tirupati, then Congress president P V Narasimha Rao held elections to the CWC, expecting that his handpicked men would win. After his detractors — most importantly Arjun Singh, but also Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot — were elected, Rao got the entire CWC to resign saying no SC, ST, or woman had been elected. He then reconstituted the CWC, and inducted Singh and Pawar in the nominated category.
Elections to the CWC were held again in 1997 under Sitaram Kesri at the Calcutta plenary. The counting, party leaders recall, went on until the following day. Among the winners the fierce contest produced were Ahmed Patel, Jitendra Prasada, Madhav Rao Scindia, Tariq Anwar, Pranab Mukherjee, R K Dhawan, Arjun Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sharad Pawar and Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy.
Earlier, at the 1969 Bombay plenary, after the debilitating split in the Congress, an election was averted at the last minute after Chandra Shekhar, the original Young Turk, was included among the 10 “unanimously elected” candidates.
After Sonia became Congress president in April 1998, the members of the CWC were always nominated, as she promoted a culture of patronage.
Elections aside, how — and how often — has the CWC been reorganised?
The last reorganisation of the CWC was in March 2018, three months after Rahul took over as Congress president in December 2017. At the session, the AICC authorised him to reorganise the CWC.
The previous reorganisation was in March 2011, after Sonia’s September 2010 re-election as Congress president. She did not make any dramatic changes, but dropped Arjun Singh and Mohsina Kidwai from the main CWC and accommodated them as permanent invitees.
The CWC then had Manmohan Singh, A K Antony, Rahul Gandhi, Motilal Vora, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Digvijaya Singh, Janardan Dwivedi, Oscar Fernandes, Mukul Wasnik, B K Hariprasad, Birendra Singh, Dhani Ram Shandil, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, Hemo Prova Saikia and Sushila Tiria, besides Mukherjee and Azad. There were five vacancies.
All Congress presidents have tried to get their own CWCs; in fact, no president can afford to have a CWC packed with critics. The party’s constitution itself stipulates that only 12 of the 25 members will be elected, so that the president always has the upper hand.
Essentially, it has boiled down to a mix of loyalty to the party president and deference to regional, caste and organisational balance. The gender balance has, however, been frequently overlooked.
Rahul took a good four months after the AICC session to decide on his CWC. He replaced one set of the old guard with another, while keeping his faith in the third set of veterans. At the same time, he brought in younger faces into the party secretariat. So, the likes of Gaurav Gogoi, R P N Singh, Jitendra Singh and Rajeev Satav were put in charge of key states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Gujarat.
A host of former young Congress leaders were drafted into the party as secretaries to assist the general secretaries or the in-charges. He did make an effort to live up to his promise that the old guard and the young Turks would find equal place in his team.
The top decision-making body in the BJP is the Parliamentary Board. It has 11 members that are handpicked by the BJP president.
Unlike the CWC, the BJP Parliamentary Board meets whenever the party has to decide on a Chief Minister after state elections. It was the Parliamentary Board that had decided to project Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate in 2013.
Like the CWC, the Parliamentary Board too is a policymaking body; however, like in the CWC, party policies have rarely been discussed in the Parliamentary Board, especially since the BJP came to power in 2014.
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