The Congress Working Committee (CWC) Sunday decided to hold an election for the post of party president on October 17. The meeting coming in the wake of Ghulam Nabi Azad’s exit from the party while levelling damaging charges against Rahul Gandhi saw some uncomfortable moments, with G-23 leader Anand Sharma raising questions over the electoral rolls.
He said there was no clarity regarding the 9,000-odd delegates of PCCs who are members of the electoral college, thus pointing fingers at the sanctity of the process itself. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have agreed with him on the need for more clarity.
However, soon after the meeting, the Congress denied that any questions of the sort had been raised by anyone. Sharma, though, told The Indian Express that he had raised the matter, and stood by his demand.
Significantly, soon after the CWC announced the schedule, former Maharashtra chief minister and another G-23 member, Prithviraj Chavan, told The Indian Express that while “we will be happy if Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot contests” for the top post if Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are not willing, the party will not survive if someone is made a “puppet president”.
The CWC meeting, held virtually and presided over by party president Sonia, who along with her children Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is abroad for a medical checkup, unanimously accepted the schedule placed before it by Madhusudan Mistry, the head of the Congress Election Authority.
According to the schedule announced by the party, the window for filing of nominations is September 24 to September 30. The last date of withdrawal is October 8 and the election, if there is more than one candidate, will take place on October 17, with the counting of votes and declaration of results on October 19.
The last time a contest took place for the post of Congress president was way back in 2001, when Jitendra Prasada contested against Sonia.
The electoral college for the party president’s post consists of delegates of Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs). Sharma is learnt to have said that Mistry should explain the election of the delegates, pointing out that he had received a lot of complaints that no meetings of the booth, block or district committees or PCCs were held. He asked how the lists were prepared then.
Suggesting violation of the sanctity of the process, he said the lists must be made available to every committee before the nomination process begins. Sonia is learnt to have suggested that it should be done.
Mistry reportedly replied that the lists will be made available to the PCCs, and that the returning officers have already checked and signed the lists. He said any person who wants to file a nomination will also be given the lists.
Some of the G-23 leaders said later that Mistry’s statement that the lists will be made available to the PCCs before the nomination begins is a confirmation that even the PCCs don’t know who the delegates from a state are.
Addressing a press conference after the CWC meeting, AICC general secretary in charge of communication Jairam Ramesh declared: “No questions were raised at the CWC.”
He then handed over the microphone to Mistry, who interestingly said: “Jinhone yeh sawal uthaye, woh usi process main se guzre hain. Aur usi process aur usi procedure ke andar se yeh sab kuchch hua hai (The ones who raised these questions, they have gone through the same process, and it is that which has been followed). They were a party to it. So I don’t have to say more.”
Mistry added that the electoral college consists of nearly 9000 delegates.
The party was to elect a new president to replace Sonia Gandhi between August 21 and September 20. But now the process has spilled over to October. Asked about this, AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal, who addressed the press conference with Ramesh and Mistry, said: “There are a lot many issues… Agitations, programmes, and the final decision on PCC members… should be done in a proper way… It is quite natural… a 28-day delay basically.”
Venugopal added that it was an “open election” and “anybody can contest”. According to the Congress constitution, all that an aspirant candidate is required to do to become eligible to contest is to get 10 PCC delegates to propose his or her name. Asked about attempts to persuade Rahul to contest, Venugopal said: “Now elections are already announced. Those who want to contest as Congress president should file a nomination before September 30th.”
Ramesh said the Congress is the only political party in which elections are held for all posts, including that of president. “Elections have taken place, will take place and will continue to take place,” he said.
Later, hours after the meeting, Ramesh tweeted: “There is some dubious ‘source-based’ plantation going on that questions were raised in the CWC meeting today on the Congress President’s election process & schedule. This is to make absolutely clear that NOBODY raised any question or any doubt.”
When asked about the tweet, Sharma told The Indian Express “I can confirm that I raised the issue of the electoral rolls” at the meeting.
Elaborating, Sharma said he endorsed the election schedule but asked Mistry to make available the final list of delegates to all the PCCs and other committees, and said there were complaints that meetings of these committees were not held to draw up the lists.
Sharma said the Congress president registered his view and said that the lists should be made available. He said Mistry then told the meeting that the lists would be made available to the PCCs and candidates who want to contest.
Chavan told The Indian Express he was happy that elections for the post of president have been announced. “All the organs of the party should be filled by elections, not by nominations,” he said. However, he added, “There should not be a puppet president and genuine elections should take place.”
While the Gandhis have reportedly decided to throw their weight behind Gehlot, he is said to be undecided. Some leaders said Sunday that he wants to continue as Chief Minister. “I am told he is ready to take over provided he is allowed to continue as Chief Minister or a person of his choice is made the CM,” one leader said.
Asked about Gehlot, Chavan said he has no objections to the name. “We have been asking for elections. If Rahul Gandhi or anybody from the family is not going to be the president as Rahul Gandhi has said… then we must respect his views and wishes. We cannot keep the position vacant for a very long time… Anybody can contest… If somebody says Gehlot is ready, we will be very happy if he contests. He is a very senior Congressman, with a background in administration, organisation, party, the entire gamut… good if he contests.”