Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge has been authorised to choose new members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the outgoing Steering Committee on Friday decided at a meeting that decided the agenda for party’s 85th Plenary session at Raipur.
While the Gandhis skipped the meeting, the other members of the Steering Committee were divided on the issue of holding elections to the CWC, the party’s highest decision-making body.
Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) chief Sonia Gandhi and former party chief Rahul Gandhi later arrived in Chhattisgarh’s capital and were accorded a grand welcome by the Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, his counterpart from Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot and Himachal Pradesh’s Sukhwinder Sukhu amid colourful dance performances by tribal folk artistes.
At the meeting, senior leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Ajay Maken and Abhishek Singhvi demanded elections, while others didn’t favour elections. The party constitution provides for elections of 12 members to the CWC while the rest are nominated by the party president. As reported by The Hindu earlier, the party also announced that it’ll reserve half of the CWC seats for youth, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women and minorities.
The composition of the CWC would also be changed to include former Congress Prime Ministers and former All India Congress Committee (AICC) presidents as permanent members. This would automatically include Dr. Manmohan Singh, Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Gandhi. The inclusion of the leaders of the Congress in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha has also been proposed. The number of permanent CWC members would rise from the current 25 once these amendments are approved.
The 1992 Plenary session in Tirupati under the presidency of late P.V. Narasimha Rao and the one that followed in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1997, under the presidency of Sitaram Kesri, were the last instances of electing members to the CWC. Since then, the convention has been to authorise the party chief to nominate.
In the past 31 years, Mr. Kharge is the first non-Gandhi party chief to have been authorised to nominate the CWC members.
Congress general secretary (communications), Jairam Ramesh, said the committee freely discussed the matter of CWC elections and all the members present unanimously authorised the Congress president to nominate members.
Mr. Ramesh said, “There were two main reasons to authorise the party president to nominate CWC members. First, the political challenge before the country today. And the second reason is that we are amending the party constitution to ensure representation to Dalits, minorities and youth.”
Prominent change seekers like Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik, who were part of the ginger group called G-23, also agreed with a consensus approach. Mr. Sharma argued to amend the constitution and expand the CWC to reflect it.
In all, 16 articles and 32 rules are set to be amended, the most important of which is to provide a 50% reservation to SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities, women and youth in the CWC.
Another proposed amendment said 50% of all the delegates and office-bearers in the mandal, block, city, district and Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC) shall be reserved for SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities. “Additionally, there shall be 50% reservation for persons below 50 years of age as also women, both in the reserved categories as also in the unreserved category in the remaining 50%,” the proposed amendment says.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Kharge set the tone and tenor for the meeting by suggesting that he would go by the majority view on the issue of holding elections to the CWC.
However, sources claimed opinion was divided on the question. While leaders like Mr. Singh, Mr. Maken and Mr. Singhvi favoured elections, senior leaders, including Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot, called for consensus.
Mr. Gehlot argued that there was no need for an election to the highest decision-making body when elections at the grassroots didn’t take place regularly. Supporting him, Rajya Sabha member, Pramod Tiwari, said CWC elections would create internal rifts that would be detrimental to the party’s interests ahead of Lok Sabha elections next year and the upcoming Assembly elections.
Noting that the Plenary is being held in Chhattisgarh ahead of Assembly elections in half a dozen States and the 2024 parliamentary election, he said, “There is a big challenge as well as a big opportunity before us.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Singhvi said if elections to CWC can’t be held now, it should be held after 2024 Lok Sabha election.
The Congress chief said that the Plenary is being held at a time when democracy and the Constitution are “under threat” and parliamentary institutions are facing serious crisis.
Mr. Kharge said that since its inception in 1885, there have been 84 Congress sessions but the current session is very special as it marks 100 years since Mahatma Gandhi was elected as the party president.
He also said the Bharat Jodo Yatra was successful in infusing new energy among party workers as well as highlighting the issues of price rise, unemployment and other economic challenges. “We have to carry forward that enthusiasm,” he said.