For the Congress, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting in Delhi today is a belated step in the right direction. Much has happened in Indian politics and within the Congress party since the CWC last met in August 2019. The party lost its government in Madhya Pradesh, it was forced to replace its chief minister in Punjab, nearly lost the government in Rajasthan, and is battling a power struggle in Chhattisgarh. It performed poorly in assembly elections in Bihar, West Bengal, Kerala, Haryana, Delhi and Puducherry. High-profile exits, among them Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sushmita Dev, Jitin Prasada and Luizinho Faleiro, have been a setback to the party and a group of senior leaders has openly expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which the high command is running the show. These developments are especially significant since five states — UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur — are set for polls early next year, and later, in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. In this backdrop, it is not sufficient that the CWC meets. The top decision-making body of the country’s main opposition party must also look within in frank and honest ways.
The Congress has not had a full-time president since Rahul Gandhi stepped down after the 2019 general election defeat. An ailing Sonia Gandhi returned as interim chief because the party could not convince Rahul Gandhi to stay on or find a replacement for him. The ad-hoc nature of the arrangement has caused a communication breakdown within the party. It has contributed to the emergence of the G-23, a group of senior Congress leaders upset with the opaque functioning at the party’s top. These leaders have not openly challenged the Gandhi family, but have indicated their preference for a more transparent and collective leadership. In the absence of regular meetings and a clear chain of command, the Congress has been making costly mistakes, resulting in a loss of direction for the party and the shrinking of its electoral footprint. One of the tasks before the CWC is to put in place an institutional mechanism for the party to respond quickly and collectively to political challenges.
One of the great legacies of the Congress party was the democratic nature of its organisation and decision-making. The All India Congress Committee used to hold elections at regular intervals and choose the CWC. The CWC was the party’s main deliberative forum until Indira Gandhi purged it of independent voices. The Congress could use this crisis to revive the past tradition and re-energise the organisation. A fleet-footed opposition is necessary to keep the government on its toes.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 16, 2021 under the title ‘CWC’s task’.
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