The re-constitution of the Congress Working Committee by Rahul Gandhi has essentially given out two messages. The inclusion of several senior leaders considered close to his predecessor, Sonia Gandhi provides the impression that she continues to have a major say in the activities of the party she headed for nearly 20 years, longer than any other past president. It is evident that the decision of not holding the elections to the pivotal body was also influenced by her, given that she was least inclined towards having elected members in the CWC and was more at ease in granting patronage to those she handpicked.
Rahul, on the other hand, has always seemed keen on having a democratic structure within the party, the proof being his initiative in introducing the poll process in the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India, the two frontal organisations which were under his charge for several years. The significant takeaway from the new CWC is that Rahul has attempted to bring in some fresh faces from established Congress families, while keeping out their illustrious fathers.
A case in point is that of young and dynamic Deependra Hooda, who is amongst the four representatives in the committee from Haryana, but his father, Bhupendra Singh Hooda, former Chief Minister and the tallest leader from the region, is conspicuous by his absence. Hooda senior could be central to the party’s Haryana strategy ahead of next year’s Assembly elections, and thus his supporters would have obviously expected him to have been a part of the hierarchy in the Congress.
Another point of astonishment is the non-inclusion of Chief Ministers, particularly Captain Amarinder Singh, since the states which are administered by the Congress are ironically less than the fingers in the Hand symbol of the party. To make amends, the Chief Ministers have been invited to be a part of the extended CWC that will be meeting in the capital on Sunday.
The glaring omission in the CWC is that of Dr Karan Singh, the most prominent Hindu face of the party, and one of the senior-most leaders of the Congress, who was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967, much earlier than anyone currently active in national politics. Former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh is the only other leader who entered Parliament earlier than Dr Karan Singh in 1962. However, Virbhadra is currently a regional player, confining his politics to Himachal Pradesh. Incidentally, he is also the only politician in the country who has worked closely with all the Prime Ministers beginning with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
The imbalance in the Working Committee is reflected by the absence of representatives from several key states including Bihar and West Bengal. The official explanation being that if one leader was to be included at the cost of the other, it might increase factionalism. The reverse side of the same logic is that if there are four representatives from a small state like Haryana, it showcases factionalism and a concerted attempt to keep all sides happy. The non-inclusion of Sushil Kumar Shinde, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and the most distinguished Dalit face of the party, who was fielded as a Vice Presidential nominee, defies all reasoning. There are numerous names who should have made it to the list, but would now wait in the wings so as to make their entry into the electoral theatre.
In fact, the eminent names missing from the notification definitely suggests that Rahul perhaps could be considering a long-pending proposal of constituting the Congress Parliamentary Board, the highest body, superior to the CWC. For more than two decades, the CPB has not been set up, and at one stage, Sonia Gandhi’s explanation was that there was no need for it since many of the CWC members would also be a part of the Board if it was to be declared.
In the latest instance and under changed circumstances, Rahul can readily bring back to life the defunct Board, as it would not only assist him in accommodating more leaders but would also furnish a wider support base to his presidency. The Congress has been shrinking, with its worst poll performance being in 2014, and thus needs to resuscitate itself in order to morph into a combative force. The need of the hour is for Rahul to rope in more leaders who have the potential of being elected to the Lok Sabha by providing them a requisite relevant status. In this context it is significant to emphasise that the principal reason for the Congress losing its mass base, was that over the years it has been dominated by Rajya Sabha leaders.
It is high time for leaders with electability to come forward, and be a part of the decision-making process at such a scale that has not been witnessed in years. Most of the leading lights of the party have become either irrelevant or lack the ability to face the electorate in a direct contest. The sooner Rahul comprehends this fact, the better it would be for his long-term politics. This paradigm shift in style would make his politics more credible and simultaneously enhance his overall acceptance. His speech on Friday, during the no confidence motion, demonstrated that he was not hesitant to speak his mind. He now has also to show that he is not reluctant in making changes wherever they were needed, by creating his own space in the 132-year-old organisation. Between us.