Amid rumors in Congress, dissidents emphasize the need for a practical boss
When seven of 23 high-ranking politicians in Congress who called for radical organizational reform in August met with party chair Sonia Gandhi on Saturday, they offered various suggestions for reviving the 135-year-old political party. One of the key suggestions was the role of the president, who, they said, should be practical and lead from the front.
Called an icebreaker, this was the first in-person interaction amid the Covid-19 pandemic between representatives of the dissident group and Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders. Hindustan Times spoke to several of the twenty attendees about the kind of changes the group wanted at the party.
The individual members of the group who took turns speaking their views and some other attendees, such as former finance minister P Chidambaram. Many of the suggested changes to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) were presented by Chidambaram, who did not respond to HT’s inquiries. “There should be people who sit in the office every day and are available for meetings and not the kind of ghost town that (the seat of Congress) is now,” said one of the group of seven dissidents who attended the meeting under condition of anonymity. . “We wanted a president to work within a revived intraparty institution.”
Uncertainty over leadership has weakened Congress and demoralized its workers, said the controversial letter written by 23 leaders to Sonia Gandhi on Aug. 7, warning the high command of the erosion of its support base with the defection of officials at all the states, and calling for a review of the party organization and a “visible” leadership.
The letter also sought introspection of the reasons behind the party’s “steady decline” and called on the leadership of Congress to take the initiative for the formation of a “national coalition of democratic and secular forces” against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). .
Of the 23 signatories to the letter, the leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, his deputy in the House Anand Sharma, former union ministers Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, former prime ministers of Haryana and Maharashtra Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Prithviraj Chavan and the head of the party’s legal department, Vivek Tankha, attended the meeting.
The institutions the letter writers referred to at Saturday’s party meeting were both existing ones and some new ones they want to create. For example, they suggested the appointment of one, two, or even more acting chairmen who would help the party chairman to function more effectively.
This proposal has circulated for years, especially around the time Rahul Gandhi assumed the party presidency, which he did in December 2017, only to step down in May 2019 following the debacle of Congress in the general election, paving the way. way reason for Sonia Gandhi to become acting head of the party. The concept of the active president has been revived with greater vigor since then.
The only precedent for an active president in Congress dates back to the era of Rajiv Gadhi. Because he was prime minister and also president of Congress, he elected veteran Kamalapati Tripathi as acting president and Arjun Singh became vice president of the party.
“The idea is to have a more consultative management of the party,” said another key leader. To this end, the letter writers also suggested that the Pradesh Congressional Committee heads have the power to do more. They noted that at this time, the heads of the PCC were reporting to the general secretaries that they were “de facto kings.”
The letter writers, especially Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha, also proposed to restart the Party’s parliamentary board. This is a body that is still mentioned in article 25, paragraph A of the party’s constitution. The clause says the body will be headed by the party president and will have nine other members, one of whom will be the party’s leader in Parliament.
“People confuse the function of the board. The constitution says that its purpose is to regulate and coordinate the parliamentary activities of the congressional legislatures, ” said the second leader quoted above. The August letter writers suggested that the parliamentary board meet regularly so that it can have a coordinated view of current issues.
When this was suggested, however, Sonia Gandhi pointed out that the body had been disposed of by PV Narasimha Rao when he was president of the party in 1992.
Party insiders said that Rao’s was a nuanced move. ”“ During the plenary session in Tirupati (in 1992), Arjun Singh, Jitendra Prasad and others formed a union and won the Congressional Work Committee (CWC) elections. Since they would now have a say over the members of the parliamentary board, Rao said there was no point in having a board. A day later, they were made to issue a resolution empowering the president of Congress (Rao) to reconstitute all the organs, ”said a former congressman.
Finally, it was suggested that elections be held to elect the members of the CAQ, the party’s highest decision-making body. The last time CWC elections were held was under Sitaram Kesri in 1997. In the last plenary session of Congress, Ghulam Nabi Azad presented a resolution that ruled out CWC elections in favor of the nomination of members by the President of Congress. The CWC’s mandate expires in 2022 and the letter writers want the election system to be returned by then.
One of the suggested changes in Saturday’s meeting was immediately accepted. Former Minister Manish Tiwari proposed “chintan shivirs,” or introspection meetings; its acceptance was announced by Pawan Bansal of Congress.
Tiwari did not respond to HT’s inquiries.
Now the letter writers are waiting for the party to continue their other suggestions. They include one for the party to articulate a clear ideological vision. For example, Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor has learned from the HIndustan Times that he did not agree with the soft approach to Hindutva taken by some party members in the north.
Some of the August letter writers are optimistic that the leaders will accept their reform proposals, but others are skeptical. “They are just following the movements. Why else would they have a press conference the day before to announce that 99% want Rahul Gandhi to return? ” Said one of the signatories, requesting anonymity.
Another signatory said that he and other signatories had no problem with Rahul Gandhi becoming president of Congress through an electoral process. He warned that he and the others would resist any move to “impose power” on the party.
There are others among the dissidents who feel that the Gandhis made an attempt at rapprochement.