Achieving the ambitious goals of social representation in the Congress Working Committee (CWC) that the Congress set for itself at its brainstorming session in Udaipur, in May 2022 was never going to be easy. It took party president Mallikarjun Kharge nearly six months after he was authorised by the Raipur session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in February 2023 to finally announce the new CWC on Sunday, which also happened to be the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. While combining experience and youth, Mr. Kharge has drawn up a list that significantly enhances diversity in the party’s highest decision-making body. His opponent in the 2022 election for the top post, Shashi Tharoor, finds a place, in a commendable appreciation of internal democracy, and an encouraging signal to many sceptics of the party. Half the CWC, excluding invitees, are from Scheduled Castes, Other Backward Classes, tribals, and minority communities or women, which meets the Udaipur ambition. But when invitees are accounted for, the social composition tilts in favour of upper castes and minorities, even as it meets the ‘50 under 50’ age criteria. A number of fresh faces from the middle rungs have made it to the list — former Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit leader at 60 and Kamleshwar Patel, the 49-year-old OBC leader from the election-bound Madhya Pradesh, are in, while Damodar Raja Narasimha, 64, from Telangana is a permanent invitee.
Mr. Kharge has the unenviable task of exercising his authority while three members of the Gandhi family — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — remain active, but he appears to be up to it. The list reflects the party’s keen attention to the upcoming Assembly elections in the heartland. Chhattisgarh Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu, an influential OBC leader, is expected to play a crucial role. In Rajasthan, while Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is given a free hand to lead the charge, the induction of his challenger Sachin Pilot and tribal leader Mahendrajeet Singh Malviya to the CWC is expected to reinforce party unity. The party has tried to reassure discontented social groups and assuage rebellious leaders in various States, and the constitution of the new body is largely representative of the geographical and social expanse of India. Though some disenchantment might surface in the days ahead, the new CWC reflects both imagination and compromise. While this is a good start, there is more that the Congress needs to do to be truly representative of this diverse nation, besides strategising for elections and improving political communication and becoming the centre of gravity of Opposition politics in the run-up to 2024.