Constitution of CWC will be the first indicator of the Congress chief’s political management skills
Two months after the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as president of India’s oldest political party, the Congress on Friday following the party constitution dissolved its highest decision-making body the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and replaced it with a steering committee ahead of the All India Congress Committee (AlCC) plenary session, which will be attended by delegates from a” States, expected to be held next month. The AICC session will ratify Gandhi’s accession to the party’s top post a formality. What remains to be seen is: (a) Who will figure in the new CWC that will be announced at the plenary session and; (b) Whether elections to the CWC, last held under the leadership of Sitaram Kesari in 1997, will be restored or whether Rahul Gandhi continues go down the nominated route.
There are, surprisingly for a party that leaks like a sieve, no early indications on ether front. That is a good thing, because it shows that the new leadership has learnt from the BJP that perception is as important in politics today as performance and policies and a bunch of entitled leaders lobbying to get into the CWC does not make for an edifying sight especially given the Congress’ dynastic impulses. The steering committee has essentially retained a” the members of the outgoing CWC with a couple of ‘special invitees’ having been dropped due to appointments elsewhere or age such as Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab and senior leader Mohsina Kidwai respectively so there is not much to read in the tea leaves there too. Congress statutes allow for 12 members of the 25-member apex decision making body to be elected while the other 13 slots are filled by the party president’s nominees thereby ensuring there is no issue of the leadership losing control in any circumstance.
There are some in the Congress close to Rahul Gandhi who, though keeping his cards close to his chest, are convinced that both in terms of composition and procedure he is quite determined to ensure that the generational change in the party which is ongoing at the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) level ought to be reflected in the higher echelons of the party as well albeit without isolating senior leaders. So, while Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Kamal Nath or Ghulam Nabi Azad and the like may will continue in the new CWC, there is a possibility of Rahul inducting at least four or five fresh faces. But the big betting, as it were, is on whether elections to 12 CWC posts would be given the go-ahead which many believe would not only deflect criticism of the Congress as a family run concern somewhat but also energize and galvanize the rank-and-file. Ironically, though, if elections do come to pass, it is the senior leaders given their network of patronage and relationships at the PCC level built and nurtured over years if not decades who are likely to win through, which would leave Rahul in the unenviable position of having to accommodate the ‘Ioyalist” senior leaders, that is those who owe their rise in the party hierarchy to proximity to its first family, in the nominated slots thereby squeezing out the younger hopefuls.
As the next General Election approaches and the Congress believes the Narendra Modi electoral armor is showing some chinks, it must recognize that in order to exploit them in any substantive way it has to first get its own house in order and present a leadership team to the people that inspires confidence and is on-message, taking its cues from the party president. The Ides of March will verily be the first real test of Rahul Gandhi’s skills in political management.