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With pandemic and polls, Sonia Gandhi can remain president of Congress until 2022


At a meeting on May 10, the Congressional Working Committee (CWC) “temporarily” postponed the long-overdue organizational elections. But the demands related to the health emergency that required the delay are not going away anytime soon. Circumstances make Sonia Gandhi’s continuation as interim party chairperson inevitable throughout this year, perhaps until elections are held in five state assemblies in the first quarter of 2022.

Except for Uttar Pradesh, Congress could rise to power in the remaining election-bound states: Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. Following the February-March round, elections for the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat legislatures have been scheduled in October and December next year.

“Even if we want to speed up party elections, how do we do it?” wondered a senior congressional leader who was part of the red-haired group of 23, who wrote to Gandhi in August 2020, advocating for an organizational renewal to meet the political challenge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He said the virus in the rampage has changed the situation on the ground, as people died for lack of essential medical services. The battle against the pandemic, in his opinion, was so much a battle of perception that the party should try to win by speaking for the people and standing by their side.

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How much Congress can do to bring relief to the sick and their loved ones, especially in the states it governs, remains in the realm of uncertainty, and the chaos on the ground is the same everywhere.

Organizational mechanics

However, in terms of organizational mechanics, Gandhi has done well in approaching Ghulam Nabi Azad, a former Union health minister and a prominent face of the G-23, to put him in charge of the Covid-19 task force of the Congress. In addition to high-level leaders, the panel includes BV Srinivas, the president of the Youth Congress who has earned accolades for his Good Samaritan acts with a team of committed workers.

There is certainly some freshness in the teams that Gandhi has assembled for pandemic-related work and to study the disappointing spectacle of the party in the assembly elections. Another member of the group in favor of change, Manish Tewari, has a seat on the panel headed by former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to assess the causes of the defeat of Congress in the polls, especially in Kerala, Assam, Puducherry and West Bengal.

The co-option of Anand Sharma, also a signatory to the letter written to Gandhi, is so evident in the statement he recently issued on the Israel-Palestine conflict as chairman of the foreign affairs department of the Indian Congress Committee.

These short-term initiatives do not take away from the fact that the party needs a practical, full-time president who is accessible and willing to bring his colleagues of all age groups. Several people in the party informally shared ideas that they thought could be implemented in the immediate, medium and long terms to get the party back on track.

Getting ready for the polls

To begin with, many felt that Chavan’s panel report on the election debacles should be discussed in the CWC and shared perhaps in its entirety or in redacted form at various levels of the party organization.

“Leadership should build on the report and turn it into a kind of blue book to follow during election time,” commented a CWC member who declined to be quoted. He said an honest narrative of “how the party managed to lose might be the best lesson in how to win.” It will be a short-term creative move to promote accountability with transparency.

Chavan’s panel is working overtime, virtually, to finish his assignment in about six weeks. His findings should be taken into account to prepare the party in the states that must go to the polls next year, offered an AICC secretary with a state portfolio. Corrective steps, he said, must be taken immediately, whether by making organizational changes, deciding the face of the party’s CM, or forming alliances.

For example, former Chief Minister Harish Rawat is the most prominent face of Congress in Uttarakhand, but he is currently the AICC in charge of another Punjab state that is subject to the ballot box. Similarly, Congress must seek a formidable successor for Virbhadra Singh, 87, in Himachal.

The growing friction between Captain Amarinder Singh and Navjot Sidhu requires immediate resolution in Punjab. The latter has taken to social media to express resentment shared by other party lawmakers about the CM allowing the bureaucracy disproportionate control of the state administration.

“These issues must be addressed immediately,” said a congressional state unit chief. He felt the party often paid the price for prevaricating key changes in the run-up to the elections, when the best approach is to appoint the leader and let him sort out local angles against his elevation in consultation with the AICC secretary general. correspondent. . For such decisions to be fruitful, they must be made well in advance and not when elections are one step away.

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“The model can work if the high command really delegates power and is exercised fairly at the state level,” said a veteran of the party, calling it a “cautious first step” toward fostering leadership in the provinces without the which the party cannot be structured at the federal level. “The central leadership has to be a planet with satellites.”

Building alliances

Planetary satellite imagery is a long-term process that requires, in the medium term, a neatly conducted organizational review that reflects the support and sentiments of the party’s rank and file. Once in place, the architecture will be better suited to a myriad of goals, particularly the alliances that Congress needs at the state level.

Here one recalls Sharad Pawar’s formula that did not materialize in the run-up to the 2019 elections. The National Congress Party sponsor had said at the time that Congress should expand and have primacy in the allocation of seats through an objective assessment of its strength compared to regional stakeholders. Illustration: You can be the lead partner in Rajasthan or Gujarat, not Bihar or Uttar Pradesh.

Be that as it may, in the not too distant future an alliance-building team should be formed that includes provincial and central party leaders for the impending assembly elections. The same body can link up with other parties to carry out the task at the national level closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If it works, the arrangement could well cast out a core group of policy makers that the party has lacked since the demise of the Ahmed Patel-Motilal Vora duo and the marginalization of Janardhan Dwivedi.

For the experiment to work, Gandhi, or whoever takes over as president of Congress after her, will have to be both a disruptor and a consensus builder. For her part, the acting boss is more of a consensus person, a trait that is currently needed to assuage wrong feelings, but which is not entirely effective when difficult decisions must be made.

With pandemic and polls, Sonia Gandhi can remain president of Congress until 2022

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