Without a regular president since 2019, the Congress has put off its Presidential election yet again. On July 3rd, 2019, Rahul Baba made public his decision to step down as the Congress President, badly bruised and wounded, taking moral responsibility for the Congress’s disastrous showing in the Lok Sabha elections. His ‘chowkidar chor hein’ jibe did not get accepted by general public.
On August 11th, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) appointed his mother Sonia Gandhi as interim Chief despite Rahul suggesting that someone else from outside the Gandhi family be made chief. Over one-and-a-half years of internal turmoil later, after losing MP, Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh, the Congress is still without a full – time President. On the other hand BJP’s election machine is going full steam all over the country.
It had set in motion the process of elections last August when Sonia constituted a Central Election Authority. But the CWC, which met on January 22, 2021, decided to put off the exercise until June in view of the forthcoming Assembly elections in four states and one UT. There is still no clarity on whether Rahul would return as Congress Chief. In his 2019 open letter, he had said “rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019”. His jibe was towards his senior leaders who did not agree with his ‘chor’ jibe. There is no clarity on whether anyone has been held accountable!
It was in the year 2017, after a gap of seven years organisational elections were held. At its 83rd plenary session in Burari, Delhi in December 2010, the party had amended its constitution to provide for organisational elections once in five years (it was once in three years earlier). The party had also extended its President’s term to five years from three years. So, the elections of 2017 had actually been due in 2015. According to the Congress constitution, elections are to be held right from the primary committee – at the booth level – to that for the post of Congress President. But more often than not, an election in the truest sense is avoided and the President and committees are appointed through ‘consensus’ at all levels of the party. In the case of Rahul too, there was no challenger and he was elected unopposed.
The Central Election Authority had nevertheless come out with a detailed schedule, with last dates for filing nominations, withdrawal, scrutiny etc. According to the Congress constitution, “any ten delegates may jointly propose the name of any delegate for election as President of the Congress.” Only twice in the last 40 – odd years have elections in the true sense been held. The last time was in 2000 when Late Jitendra Prasada, father of Jitin Prasad, contested against Sonia. He was defeated by 7,448 votes to 94. In 1997, Sitaram Kesri had defeated heavyweights Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot easily, with 6,224 votes against Pawar’s 882 and Pilot’s 354. Since 2000, Sonia and Rahul have never faced a challenge. According to the Congress constitution, “in the event of any emergency by reason of any cause such as the death or resignation of the President elected – the senior most General Secretary will discharge the routine functions of the President until the Working Committee appoints a provisional President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC”. Amazing.
The CWC had appointed Sonia as the Provisional President. Therefore a regular president is to be appointed for the rest of the term. Since organisational elections are due in 2022, the regular president will have a term of roughly one-and-a-half years.
While the president is elected by an Electoral College of Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates, party leaders said a regular president is appointed by the All India Congress Committee (AICC), which means the Electoral College will consist only of AICC members. There were some 9,000-odd PCC delegates in 2017, which may increase; the AICC is expected to have around 1,500 members. According to the Congress constitution, the AICC consist of “one-eighth of the number of the PCC members elected by them from amongst themselves by proportional representation according to the system of single transferable vote”. Four members each will be elected from the Chandigarh, Andaman & Nicobar, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu and Lakshadweep units. The leader of the party in Parliament, its leaders in the legislatures, 15 members elected by the Congress in Parliament, and members co-opted by the CWC from special categories too are members.
There is pressure on the leadership from a group of influential leaders – popularly known as G-23 to hold elections to the CWC and Central Election Committee, which finalises party candidates for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. After the CWC meeting, AICC General Secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal had said the party was willing to hold CWC elections but a little clarity was needed over “whether the Congress president election and Working Committee can be together, or that after the Congress president election, Working Committee election has to be held”.
In the last 50 years or so, Congress leaders say, genuine elections have been held to the CWC only twice. On both occasions, a person outside the Nehru-Gandhi family was at the helm Late P V Narasimha Rao during the AICC’s 1992 plenary in Tirupati, and Kesri during the 1997 Kolkata plenary. Sonia, who became Congress President in an internal coup in April 1998, always nominated the members of the CWC. The CEC too has been a nominated body for long.
The G-23 leaders believe elections to the CWC and the CEC will end the culture of patronage in the party. They have also been demanding revival of the powerful Congress Parliamentary Board (discarded during the Narasimha Rao era), for “collective thinking” and decision making on organisational matters, policies and programmes”. The party constitution says the CWC “shall set up a Parliamentary Board consisting of the Congress President and nine other members, one of whom will be the leader of the Congress Party in Parliament”; the Congress president will be the board’s chairman.
Congress leadership is not clear whether Rahul will like to be President again and there is a deafening silence in the party and the outcome is very dangerous, it is forming an alliance with the entire left panorama of parties and a communal Muslim cleric which may be the third front to fight the Bengal elections. Furfura Sharif (also known as Phurphura, Furfura Darbar Sharif) is a village in Jangipara community development block of Srirampore subdivision in Hooghly District in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is a holy place for Bengali Muslims. Before the afternoon prayers, people queue up at the mazar (shrine) of Hazrat Abu Baqar Siddique (1846-1939), a prominent peer (holy person) of the town. People say that this is the second most prominent mazar in the country after Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan.
Muslims constitute 27.01% of the population in West Bengal and they have since 2011 been voting overwhelmingly in favour of Trinamool Congress. A split in Muslim votes is likely to impact the prospect of the ruling party in the upcoming Assembly polls. RJD is not part of this combination and it has supported the TMC, since a large number of Bihari work in Bengal since ages.
The SP is not willing to support Congress in the next election in UP. DMK is bargaining very hard and willing to give only 18 seats to Congress, an embarrassing climb down to a party, which used to form government in the state. DMK is more than willing to give seats to the left than Congress. Unconfirmed report suggests that Congress may not be able to come back to power and it is likely that BJP and its allies may form the new government in Puducherry. That leaves no maneuvering space to the Congress.
Even though the left government is deeply entrenched in the gold smuggling case and church favouring BJP candidates in Kerala, Congress will perform badly even though Baba was seen swimming with ‘samander ke farmers and Twitter Didi was plucking tea leaves in Assam and running to stage to speak to empty stands.
Its association with ‘itra’ (perfume) king has exposed them very very badly as largely communal party and this will hurt Congress in the upper Assam region. The future looks dismal for the Congress.
The Congress will not win any significant seats nor votes to form governments in all 5 bound states. The senior Congress leaders will not accompany both Pappu and pinky Didi in any of their election campaign and they will be seen as communal band wagon and it will be difficult for the Congress to explain their position to their voters in other parts of the country.
Internal reports suggests that Congress may take disciplinary action on the front leading G -23 and few leaders have praised the leadership of PM. They are opposing its alliance both with ‘furfura’ and perfume king.
There is likely that Congress may get split and form a new political outfit, since BJP may not like present day Congress is replaced by Aap like in Surat, Gujarat where it won 27 seats.
Bad omen is looming large on congress!