Chairing the first meeting of the Congress steering committee, the party’s new president Mallikarjun Kharge Sunday delivered an uncharacteristically strong message to the organisation’s office-bearers: step up or step aside.
Kharge, who was elected in October to head the party, made it clear that “organisational accountability from top to bottom” was key as the party charts its way forward in the run-up to the 2024 general elections.
“Those who are incapable of fulfilling their responsibilities, they will have to make way for new colleagues,” he said. “If the Congress organisation is strong, accountable and lives up to the expectations of the people, then only we will be able to win elections.”
The steering committee, meanwhile, decided to hold a three-day plenary session of the AICC in the second half of February in Raipur to ratify Kharge’s election, chart out the future course of action and deliberate on the strategy to face the Lok Sabha elections and key Assembly polls next year.
The committee also decided to organise a two-month campaign from January 26, with a central role for AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, as a follow-up to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. As part of the campaign, Priyanka will lead “women marches” in every state, with separate women manifestos for each state.
After taking over as Congress president, Kharge had converted the Congress Working Committee into a Steering Committee in accordance with the party’s constitution.
In his stern message to the party’s office-bearers, Kharge asked the general secretaries, in-charges and office-bearers to reflect on whether they were touring the states of which they are in charge of for at least 10 days a month.
Framing a series of questions, he asked: “Have you visited every district, held discussions with the leaders, understood the local problems… Have every district and block Congress committees been constituted… Is the organisation taking up people’s issues in tune with the ground reality… Have new faces been given more and more opportunities in block and district levels… In how many units, district and block committees have not been changed in five years… How many agitations have been held at the block, district and state level in line with the directions of the AICC on local, regional and national issues?”
Kharge also wanted to know whether the general secretaries and in-charges had a roadmap for agitations on people’s issues to be held in the next 30 to 90 days. “In states where assembly elections will be held from now to 2024… what is the schedule of activities till elections? Our responsibilities will not be complete if you, your secretaries, state Congress presidents, MLAs and MPs don’t prepare a blueprint on these and other important issues, and implement them on the ground,” he said.
Asking state in-charges to submit such roadmaps within three months, Kharge said that while there are responsible people in the party who are doing their duty, some have assumed that not fulfilling their responsibilities will be ignored. “This is neither right nor acceptable,” he said.
In its statement later, the steering committee called for “every Congressman and Congresswoman to work with unity, faith, determination, and a sense of collective purpose.” The victory of the party, it said, “will be the victory of every leader and karyakarta and a victory for the idea of India that guided our freedom movement and is enshrined in our Constitution”.
Speaking to reporters, AICC general secretary in charge of organisation K C Venugopal said the party will organise the two-month long “haat se haat jodo” campaign from January 26 with padayatras at the block level, covering all gram panchayats and booths.
Besides, he said, a letter from Rahul Gandhi talking about the Bharat Jodo Yatra and a “chargesheet against the Narendra Modi Government” will be distributed. The party will also organise bike rallies to connect with the youth, he said. Asked whether elections to the Congress Working Committee will be held at the plenary session, Venugopal said “CWC election will happen according to the party 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 AICC and the rest by the party chief.
Elections to the CWC were last held in 1997 under Sitaram Kesri at the Calcutta plenary. After Sonia Gandhi became Congress president in April 1998, the members of the CWC were nominated.
In its statement, the steering committee also spoke about the economic, social and political challenges that the country faces. “Crores of people struggle with soaring prices (increasing at nearly 7%) and record unemployment (8%), even as the Government allows the concentration of the nation’s wealth in a few chosen hands. Economic growth continues to slide with every passing year,” it said.
“The deliberate subversion of, and attack on Constitutional institutions continues. The premeditated attempt that is underway to de-legitimise the judiciary and orchestrate a confrontation between the executive and the judiciary is particularly alarming. The Government continues its silence on Chinese incursions on the border and the change in status quo on the LAC, even as credible reports indicate increased deployment of Chinese troops and weaponry,” it said.
It went on to target the Prime Minister. “As India faces these challenges, the Prime Minister continues to deny, distract and divide. His inflammatory rhetoric during the recent election campaigns in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh has further polarised the polity and society at a time when serious discussion and debate are needed,” it said.