ON TOP of the agenda at last week’s day long AICC session was the selection of the 23 member Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest policy making body to which 12 members are elected and 11 are nominated. In keeping with tradition, courtiers engaged each other in a royal battle to prove their loyalty to the Gandhi family. In all the bootlicking at the meeting, the 1,200 members forgot why they met in the first place. Instead, perhaps for the first time ever, the AICC authorised the Congress president to nominate all 23 CWC members.
I see a contradiction between what the top leadership preaches and what the old guard practises. Rahul goes around the country, supervising elections in the Youth Congress and talking about the democratisation of the party. But the entrenched lobby loathes, indeed fears, change. Reports have it that both Sonia and Rahul were keen on elections being held for the 12 seats in the CWC but the chorus to authorise Sonia to handpick the CWC was led by the old guard. This is not surprising because amongst themselves, they cannot arrive at a consensus on any one issue. But the one thing that unites them is the fear of internal party elections throwing up popular, young winners who could pose a threat to their stranglehold over the party. So, out with the elections.
For some time now, there has been talk about Sonia effecting an organisational makeover. We often hear about the oneman- one- post policy being implemented but four union ministers— Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mukul Wasnik, V. Narayanswamy and Prithviraj Chavan— continue as general secretaries while A. K. Antony and Veerappa Moily are in charge of crucial states. Even Rahul’s rapid climb up the Congress ladder hasn’t altered the status quo. With Sonia authorised to nominate all members, I gather several seniors like Arjun Singh, Mohsina Kidwai, Mallikarjun Kharge and Urmila Singh will be dropped from the CWC as will some permanent invitees like Karunakaran, R. K. Dhawan. Rahul is likely to have a big say in deciding who gets into the latter category. But we will wait to see how the old guard reacts.
The happenings in the Congress are one up on Newton's Third Law. Here every action that the leadership contemplates is met with an opposite and more forceful reaction. And it is not a new phenomenon.
Sanjay Gandhi used terror tactics to bring the old order to its knees, but ultimately Indira Gandhi had to split the party in 1978 to regain control over it. Rajiv brought in his own young team when he first joined poli- Rahul Gandhi tics to assist Indira. The team was very much in place when Rajiv was anointed prime minister and seemed in control when a quarter century ago, he pledged to rid the party of wheeler dealers and power brokers. But long before his untimely demise, Rajiv had cast aside many of the young technocrats who joined him when he set out on his political journey. He had become a prisoner of the system. The same seems to be happening to Sonia and Rahul.
The AICC sessions were held in the backdrop of the crisis of credibility that is engulfing the Congress. Two major scams have haunted this government for the past few months and a third was added last week. It was hoped that Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Manmohan Singh will use the AICC to send out a strong message to the country that the perpetrators of the scams will be brought to book and the money recovered. But there was not a word about the 2G spectrum or the Commonwealth Games scams. There was total silence also on the less monumental but no less shameful Adarsh Society scam in Mumbai despite the public outrage over it.
This situation doesn’t augur well for the Congress.
In many of the “ bulk deal states” where the party won a large chunk of the seats in 2009, the Congress is in a disarray. In Andhra Pradesh, there has been no government worth the name since the death of YS Rajashekhera Reddy more than a year ago. In Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP are reeking from the stench of corruption.
For the Congress to be third time lucky in 2014, it is imperative that immediate clean up operations are set in motion to improve its image in these two states. Sonia wants change, but the old guard groups together to resist it. She must win this inner party battle to have any hopes of winning four years from now.