Plenary couldn’t have elected CWC as voters’ list was not ready.

 

The Congress Plenary was a session with a difference. Apart from the absence of portraits of leaders on the dais’ backdrop and the emptiness on the stage itself, the presence of paradropped personalities like Navjot Singh Sidhu, who entertained, and Kumar Ketkar, who presided over a TV-style group discussion, added to the “colour” of the event. Congress president Rahul Gandhi meanwhile assured the bewildered workers that no one will henceforth be allowed to “parachute in” and opportunity will be given to the cadre to occupy space in the party’s vanguard in the days to come. Lofty words indeed.

Basic facilities like food and drinking water for the participants, which is an organisational logistic for such events, had not been addressed properly. Mosquito menace at the indoor venue, named after Indira Gandhi, was another problem. Mosquitoes penetrated the shield of the Special Protection Group (SPG) and bothered Sonia Gandhi as well. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who played yeoman role in backstage management of the event is said to have been upset with the organisers for these lapses.

Portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and other leaders were displayed outside the venue, but did not form the usual backdrop on the dais. Apparently, as Congress could not display Babasaheb Ambedkar on its dais (as he was not part of the Congress movement) it was decided not to display any portraits at all. Competitive politics seems to have overcome traditional thought process of India’s party of Freedom when it met at its 84th plenary to endorse Rahul Gandhi.

As he is entitled, Rahul Gandhi let loose a diatribe on Narendra Modi. He has been aggressive in his political intercourse in the past few months. Though silent while sitting on the second bench in Lok Sabha, his attacks outside Parliament, both at home and abroad, have been getting sharper by the day. Having overcome nascent hiccups, he goes hammer and tongs while criticising Prime Minister Modi. His angry outbursts, however, do not project an alternative vision of India. Nor does he effectively set before his cadre a roadmap for reviving the sagging fortunes of the party called Indian National Congress, whose footprint across the geography of India is shrinking day by day.

The 84th Plenary could have been a turning point had elections been held after a lapse of two decades. Insiders say the electoral roll of the 1,300 delegates, who could’ve voted, was not ready as conflicting claims by different interest groups in the states could not be addressed. Rahul Gandhi thus got the authority to recast the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

CWC process has been vitiated in the party ever since Govind Ballabh Pant’s 1939 Tripuri session resolution was passed, which required Subhas Chandra Bose (who had defeated Gandhi-backed Pattabhi Sitaramayyah) to “select a CWC in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji”. The “High Command” syndrome has been intrinsic to Congress culture. Article XIX of the party’s Constitution provides for a 25-member body comprising the president, the party’s leader in Lok Sabha, 12 members elected by delegates and the rest nominated by the president. Election of 12 CWC members may have provided a chance to the emerging youth leadership to gain legitimacy. It could also have been a show of strength by the old guard. Rahul Gandhi’s promise of a “New Congress”, made while he took over as vice president in 2013, thus remained a mere posturing.

BJP, which is emerging as the sole pan-India party occupying the space being yielded by Congress, has had a constant change in its leadership. Front row of the Treasury Benches in Lok Sabha has five former party heads .The two Communist parties have had many changes in their leaderships. Congress has been static. By not holding election to CWC, Rahul Gandhi missed a grand opportunity.

The cadre were confused because the front four rows at the plenary were occupied by the same faces who, according to Rahul Gandhi’s admission, had committed mistakes which led to the party’s catastrophe in 2014 and thereafter. Instead of his ostrich attitude, had Rahul Gandhi ventured to get an elected CWC and side by side nominated ten young men and women and ended the session with a “New Congress” flanking him on the dais, the trajectory to 2019 could have been decisive.

As things stand, it is apparent that the role of Sonia Gandhi as patron-saint is established. She and her team of trusted advisors like Ahmed Patel will be needed by Congress when it tries to cobble together alliances or adjustments in 2019. The way in which Mamata Banerjee overlooked the West Bengal PCC while playing ball directly with Sonia Gandhi in extending support for Congress’ Abhishek Singhvi in Rajya Sabha poll shows that while on the one hand the importance of state leaders is being nullified, satraps of regional parties can call the shots with “Congress High Command”.

In his centenary session address in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi had spoken of doing away with the “brokers of power and influence”, who had converted the mass movement of Congress into a “feudal oligarchy”. In 2018, Rahul Gandhi has spoken of breaking the wall and providing opportunity to the cadre. Meanwhile, on TV shows, official spokesmen of the party have stated that Congress was never a cadre-based party. Perhaps it is time for Congress to wake up. Otherwise, it will emerge as a junior partner of regional parties floated by former Congress satraps.

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