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In fact: The more things ‘change’, the more they remain same in Congress

When the Congress Working Committee last week gave one more year to the party to complete internal elections, thereby putting off Rahul Gandhi’s much-expected elevation to party chief, it tried its best to convey that it was serious about these polls. The Congress also claimed that the process was being delayed only to incorporate changes made […]

Written by Manoj C G |
September 14, 2015 12:20:11 am
Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Congress, sonia congress president, Congress Sonia Gandhi, congress president tenure, rahul congress elevation, rahul gandhi elevation, Rahul Gandhi Congress, Rahul Gandhi Congress President, Congress news, India news Sonia Gandhi, who became the Congress president for the first time in April 1998, went on to abandon the course of elections almost at all levels

When the Congress Working Committee last week gave one more year to the party to complete internal elections, thereby putting off Rahul Gandhi’s much-expected elevation to party chief, it tried its best to convey that it was serious about these polls. The Congress also claimed that the process was being delayed only to incorporate changes made to the party constitution, primarily regarding membership and the increase in reservation for weaker sections and women.

But is that really the case? Is the Congress actually serious about internal elections?

When was the last time elections in their truest sense were held in the Congress for the post of party president, or to the CWC, the apex decision-making body? Or, for that matter, how may state Congress presidents are elected?

As per the Congress constitution, 12 out of 25 members of the CWC have to be elected. But in 45 years, elections to the CWC have been held only twice, interestingly both under Congress presidents outside the Nehru-Gandhi family. At the 1969 Bombay plenary, post the split in the party, an election was averted at the last minute through pressure and cajoling tactics. To pave the way for a “unanimously elected” candidates’ list, Young Turk Chandra Shekhar’s name was included among the 10 picked.

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The last time members of the CWC were genuinely elected was way back in 1997, at the Calcutta plenary, when Sitaram Kesari was the Congress president. A year later, he was thrown out of the party. Before that, elections were held in 1992, at the Tirupati plenary, when Narasimha Rao was the Congress president. Rao’s fall from grace in the Congress subsequently was as complete.

It is another matter that Rao later asked the entire CWC to resign, ostensibly because no Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe candidate or for that matter woman was elected to the top party body.

Sonia Gandhi, who became the Congress president for the first time in April 1998, went on to abandon the course of elections almost at all levels. She always nominated members to the CWC, promoting an element of patronage culture.

Rahul’s talk against such culture, saying it “kills meritocracy”, and passionate insistence on internal elections are anyway hard to swallow for partymen. The latest postponement of elections, by extending Sonia’s term as well as that of all the party committees, certainly won’t help his cause.

Incidentally, some senior Congress leaders also claim that holding elections to the CWC now would only be counter-productive because money power could be used to buy votes. The electoral college consists of 7,000-odd delegates sent by states.

As per a senior leader, even after its worst-ever Lok Sabha performance last year, there was, to borrow a Soviet phraseology, “no glasnost or perestroika” in the Congress. There was no split either or a genuine ideological war within. “That is exactly the reason to not hold elections,” says the leader. “When everything is running so smoothly, why go in for elections which could create bad blood, factions and groups?”

But how genuine is that fear? There are no more powerful state bosses or regional satraps in the party. Syndicate is a distant memory. Ever since Jitendra Prasada lost to Sonia in the November of 2000 (Sonia got 7,448 votes while Prasada bagged a mere 94), she has held two elections to the party chief post and won both unopposed.

Given the unflinching loyalty of Congressmen at all levels to the first family, Rahul should outgrow these “fears”, and ensure polls are held to posts at other levels.

After all, how long can the grand old party, which proclaims itself as the oldest democratic force and a vibrant party with space for inner democracy, continue like this?

manoj.cg@expressindia.com

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