The 84th AICC plenary scheduled for March 16-18 to ratify Rahul Gandhi’s appointment as Congress president has thrown up a question that could define the tenure of the party’s new leader Rahul Gandhi.
Will Delhi witness Congress Working Committee elections on the lines of Tirupati in 1992 and Calcutta in 1997? Will Rahul have the courage of PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesari to hold internal CWC polls or take Sonia Gandhi's route to get the party empower him to reward loyalty at all levels of party hierarchy?
In the absence of publication of 1,300-odd party electoral rolls, it appears that Rahul's role model continues to be his mother.
According to Article XIX of the party constitution, the working committee should consist of the Congress president, the leader of the party in Parliament and 23 other members.
Of them, 12 should be elected by the All India Congress Committee delegates from various States and the rest appointed by the party president.
According to norms, only a member of the CWC can be appointed party treasurer or general secretary, while the provision for a nominated category in the CWC is aimed at giving berths to women, the weaker sections and the minorities who often fail to make it if a contest is held.
The key question now is whether Rahul will hold elections for the Congress Working Committee or will he be 'authorised' to make all the appointments.
Back in the Nineties both PV Narasimha Rao (in 1992) and Sitaram Kesari (in 1997) had conducted internal party polls for the Congress’s apex decision-making body.
The outcome of the CWC polls at the Tirupati plenary in April 1992 showed the power equations within the Congress. Rao, who had to take over the reins of the party and the Union Government under
extraordinary circumstances following Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, ordered “free for all polls” for 10 CWC berths. (The number was raised to 12 during the Sonia era.)
Many veterans such as Arjun Singh and Sharad Pawar, who fancied themselves as Rao’s rivals, closed ranks and produced a result that saw only the heavyweights, including them, making the cut in the CWC polls held after a gap of 20 years.
Rao, considered the 'Chanakya' of Indian politics, turned the tables minutes after the results were announced. He rued that the party of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had failed to elect even a single woman, Dalit or tribal representative to the CWC.
As if waiting for the cue, Rao’s political secretary Jitendra Prasada— one of the 10 winners — announced his resignation as an act of repentance.
Arjun Singh, Pawar and the others followed Prasada. Rao accepted their resignations and made them CWC members from the AICC chief’s nominated category, effectively denying them their triumph of victory.
By the time then party chief Sitaram Kesari reached Calcutta for the 80th plenary session in August 1997, the Congress was a divided house. Kesari had teamed up with Prasada, the then party vice-president, and the two withheld the list of the 1,300-odd AICC delegates, who were to elect the CWC, till a week before the plenary.
Uttar Pradesh, which has 154 AICC delegates, had a list of 109 loyalists. As for Bihar, Kesari’s home State, the list of delegates —elected from various States depending upon the organisational strength of each — had some surprise omissions. Among those left out were Jagannath Mishra and Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, both known detractors of Kesari.
But the Machiavellian moves did not stop Arjun, Pawar and Rajesh Pilot from winning the CWC polls by big margins.
Since December 2017 when Rahul took over as AICC chief, several arguments have been advanced behind the scenes. According to one line of thought, if Rahul is authorised to make all the 24 appointments in the CWC, it would help him strike a balance while picking his team and provide adequate representation to women, Dalits, minorities and the backwards classes.
A contest, on the other hand, might lead to dissent at several levels, such as the old guard versus the young, loyalty versus merit and a north-south divide among the delegates.
But at stake is Rahul’s own promise to restore inner-party democracy.
Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is @rasheedkidwai
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