In August 2020 a Group of 23 senior Congress leaders had stirred a hornet’s nest by questioning the party president, Sonia Gandhi’s style of functioning and also raised many inconvenient questions followed by demand for organisational elections. Subsequently, the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the highest decision making body of the party, agreed to draw a plan for the election of the party’s president. The plan is yet to fructify and there seems no hope in immediate future.
There was a long interregnum, between the G23 revolt and promise held out for holding elections, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that provided a cover to Mrs Gandhi and her team to ward-off elections and rightly too as the situation demanded. In between on May 10, 2021, the CWC again met and unanimously decided to postpone the elections till another date.
True to the Congress style the party’s leadership used this situation to its advantage in the most familiar fashion of sweeping the issues under the carpet. Instead of giving an impression of inclination towards holding the organisational elections, Mrs Gandhi, the interim president, has ever since taken recourse to forming series of committees to accommodate and placate the G23 leaders.
What amazed the most was that the G23 leaders gleefully accepted whatever assignment came their way. It is not surprising but amazing because of the manner in which the rebels led by the then Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad took the unprecedented revolting step with thunder. Gradually what started with a thunder ended with a whimper with the process of committee formation effectively used by Mrs Gandhi to take the sting out of the G23 formation?
With an odd former Union Minister, Kapil Sibal left untouched by the high command, most of the G23 leaders have found accommodation in these committees constituted to deal with different subjects. The only new turn in the meanwhile was that the younger leaders belonging to the Rahul Gandhi brigade began deserting the party to his great chagrin.
The G23 group, which mostly comprises of the veterans, might have lost its sting and some of the younger leaders found refuge in BJP, but the situation has not changed much on ground so far as the Congress is concerned. It continues to be beset with a downslide and an accompanying piecemeal approach, on day to day basis, to tackle the issues. The mode of committee formation as means of placating the rebels and deal with burning issues, has become fulcrum of this approach. Under the garb of spate of committee formation spree, the more the effort to change the more the Congress remains the same.
Since the situation arising out of COVID-19 pandemic has considerably improved but correspondingly neither there is any hint nor movement in the AICC circles towards holding the much promised and postponed organisational elections at least for electing a new president. In some ways by doing so the CWC is doing nothing but embarrassing itself.
The formation of series of committees could be a time buying mechanism, which is traditionally a favourite past-time of the Congress leadership, in the face of COVID-19 pandemic and related situation, for sometime but it certainly cannot be a way out of the morass in which the Congress has found itself stuck. None other than the party leaders, both of the old and young variety, are to be blamed for this situation. But what has further compounded the situation is the refusal of the party’s top echelon to shed the robe of ad hocism and show strong inclination to adopt a fresh approach.
As the indications are the party high command is mulling with the idea of further handing over some important positions to some of the dissenting leaders apart from the committees. This might keep the rebels busy and even silence them, but it is certainly not the way out to arrest the dwindling graph of the Congress.
A fresh and long term approach is need of the hour. The only way forward would be to chart on a course to hold organisational elections. Yes, the COVID-19 conditions, is a challenge but since it is a long drawn battle, the party strategists should have thought of new strategies to hold the elections using technology and restrictive practices. To begin with they should have set the electoral process rolling by putting a mechanism in place to send a clear signal that they meant business in terms of holding organisational elections. Total silence on this front has if caused more unease within the party, it can gradually provide a handle to Congress’s detractors particularly the ruling BJP to hit back hard where it hurts the most.
The issue of the party leadership needs to be settled without any further delay. Even if the rebels fall in line, which looks imminent, the ad hoc approach through committee formations will not serve any purpose in the long run and with the passage of time create new groups of rebels. In fact, it will not only further weaken the organisation but also the resolve to take on the mighty BJP under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
The sole purpose of these committees, as is evident from the names, is to accommodate as many senior leaders, to silence them, as possible with bare minimum representation to the younger set of leaders. By doing so Mrs Gandhi might be able to placate the old-guard who have already given their best years to the party, but keeping the younger lot under represented would have direct bearing on the Congress’s future and that of Rahul Gandhi if he intends to assume its leadership anytime in future.
To be fair to the current leadership, there are some attempts at rejuvenating the organisational set up in some of the politically important states such as Uttar Pradesh, where assembly elections are due early next year, Madhya Pradesh and some smaller states. But such moves will serve purpose only if the leadership issue is also simultaneously resolved and the best way to do that is holding elections at various levels.