With the plenary session round the corner, Congress’ new president Rahul Gandhi is yet to take a call on two crucial questions—whether or not to hold elections to the new Congress Working Committee (CWC), and whether or not to re-constitute the defunct Congress Parliamentary Board, the highest body of the party.

The plenary, which will be held from 16-18 March here, will witness attendance from all major All India Congress Committee (AICC) delegates. These are the same delegates who unanimously chose Rahul Gandhi as their  party president by way of resolutions passed by the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC). However, it will be at the session that Rahul Gandhi would be granted an endorsement for his elevation to the position of the party chief. The plenary is expected to be attended by 10,000-12,000 Congress members from across the state, as per senior party leaders. Out of these members of the Congress, only 1,500 will be made AICC members. The AICC members have the power to choose members of the CWC, which is the apex body in Congress. Addressing the election versus nomination debate, a senior Congress leader said, “There is no conflict in this regard. If there are elections, those who will be elected will still be AICC members. One or the other way, the constitution of the Congress party ensures that there is no bad blood between its members over AICC membership and CWC.” Election would also ensure that both veteran leaders and newcomers find a berth in the prestigious body. 

As per Article 19 of Indian National Congress’ constitution, CWC constitutes of the president, leader of Congress in Parliament and 23 other members who are appointed by the president. Out of these, 12 are elected members, while 11 are nominated. Only AICC members can be part of CWC.

The senior leader said, “Whether they come by way of elections or nominations, the members will still be the people of AICC. So often elections are only seen as a ceremony since there is already a unanimous sentiment on the deserving people who should be made part of CWC. The president will take the final call on it.” Nonetheless, with Rahul Gandhi at the helm of affairs, it is yet to be seen how CWC will infuse at least 20-25% youth faces in CWC, as has been assured by the party high command. The old guard of the Congress party has been accused of not making way for fresh blood in the past, thus stagnating the development of the Congress, while the old guard has time and again been seen steering the Congress through troubled waters. Addressing the issue, a senior party leader said, “There is no clash between the young and old as is perceived by the media. This is a natural phenomenon that any organisation faces when new blood starts to participate in decision making; so the little bit of differences in opinion between the old and the new is not exlcusive to the Congress. Also, Congress has always motivated its youth. Look at our history back to the days of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.” 

Congress has been repeatedly targeted by the BJP for its “dynasty politics” which is why elections, no matter how ceremonious they are, would give some ammunition to Congress to prove itself “democratic”. Speculation has been rife that if Rahul Gandhi wants to bring in more young people in the CWC, an election would have been a good way to oust the old guard, given that younger people who reflect the generational shift in PCCs were to find greater representation in AICC. 

However, another senior Congress leader countered, “How can you be so sure about it? What if the opposite happens and because of elections for CWC, a majority of the old guard wins? Such speculation is not worth it. The new president is keen to create a balanced CWC with a healthy mix of people.” 

A senior leader added, “The reason why nomination has been the general course is because the AICC insisted on the president to form his team which they agreed to accept without any qualms. That makes things a lot easier.”

On the subject of re-constituting a Parliamentary board, a senior Congress leader said, “There might be a resolution introduced in the plenary for a separate Parliamentary board. But then again, the people who will be looking after the matters will most likely be the people of the CWC, since CWC constitutes of the party’s best leaders. It is not so that Congress does not have a parliamentary board. It was merged with the CWC for fluent decision making and it has been working fine too.”

Last amended by the AICC in 2007, the party constitution in Article 16 allows the Subjects Committee to make recommendations to the president of the resolutions that are to be brought up in the plenary. 

Therefore, in order for the party to decide to form a separate Parliamentary Board, the members of the Subjects Committee have to recommend it to the president with at least a third of the members’ support present at the meeting—again putting the ball in Rahul Gandhi’s court on whether to form a separate Parliamentary board which stopped being a separate entity after his mother, Sonia Gandhi, took over as party president. 

According to Article 25 of Congress’ constitution, “The Parliamentary Board shall be set up by the CWC from among the members of the CWC at its first meeting after its formation and shall continue in office till a new board is set up.” 

Nonetheless, this will be the fourth time Congress will form a new CWC. The last time Congress brought in a new CWC was in 1977 under the leadership of Sitaram Kesri.

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