Naysayers Busy Speculating on Congress Implosion, But the Corpse is Alive and Kicking

Naysayers are having a field day speculating about imploding the Congress party. However, the corpse is rather alive and kicking. Dissent, disquiet and churning are signs of life in any organisation and the grand old party, having seen many such moments in the past, is watching with a sense of anticipation.

What is worth noticing for any discerning observer is the near absence of any rebellion or signs of a split. Speculation relating to a section of the Congress approaching Aam Admi Party (AAP) turned out to be a damp squib as most restless Congress leaders happen to be dynasts and rejected by the electorate. In temperament and style of functioning, many would not be at the same wave-length as Arvind Kejriwal or fit in the Delhi chief minister’s world view.

Dissenters Sandeep Dikshit, Sharmistha Mukherjee, Shashi Tharoor, Milind Deora, Jairam Ramesh, Kapil Sibal and a range of other leaders have not taken any elementary or basic step to force a discussion on the state of the party. There is no letter or written word addressed to interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, requesting or asking her to summon the Congress Working Committee. The term and mandate of the CWC has expired and the apex decision-making body itself needs to be junked.

The real and ideal forum to discuss leadership issue is an All India Congress Committee (AICC) session. If these worthies had taken the trouble to glance at the Congress constitution, they would have found Article XIII section B clause d stating:

“The AICC shall meet as often as required by the Working Committee, but at least once a year, or on a joint requisition addressed to the Working Committee by not less than 20% of the total number of AICC members having full voting rights. Such requisition shall specify the purpose for which the requisitionists desire a meeting of the AICC. A requisitioned meeting shall be held within 2 months of the receipt of the requisition…”

There are very few in the Congress who would question writing or drafting skills of Tharoor, Ramesh, Sibal or even Dikshit. The question that remains unanswered is that why Congress leaders are not exercising powers conferred in the party constitution.

Had Tharoor, Manish Tiwari or any other Lok Sabha MP contemplated to contest the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) election, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury would, perhaps, not have been leader of the party in the Lok Sabha.

The Congress party constitution running into 45 pages [it is available on-line] makes for an interesting reading. Sample this:

Rule Under Article VI (ii) — Meetings of Congress Committee: The General Bodies of Pradesh Congress Committees shall meet at least once in six months and the Executive Committees at least once in three months. Similarly, the General Bodies of District Congress Committees shall meet at least once in six months and the Executive Committees at least once in two months or as often as may be required. This norm has been floated across the length and breadth of the country as district Congress committees or PCC general bodies, executives seldom meet.

The upcoming Rajya Sabha polls have added flavour. There are young and not-so-young leaders, having lost 2019 Lok Sabha, eyeing upper house berths that only Gandhis can gift. They fear that a directive from Sonia debarring those who lost 2019 general elections would instantly make them ineligible for 11 berths the Congress hopes to get in April 2020 biannual polls.

The Congress folklore for decades has firmly believed that Rajya Sabha nominations are a gift or loyalty reward that only Gandhis can offer. This time around, it remains to be seen whether the Gandhis would pick one of their own, i.e. Priyanka Gandhi, as their nominee. There are compelling reasons for Priyanka to stay put in Uttar Pradesh (where there are no Rajya Sabha vacancies for the party) but in politics, nothing can be ruled out.

In crux, what ails the present-day Congress is lack of communication. Communication within the organisation. Virtually nobody has an idea how Sonia Gandhi intends to resolve the leadership issue. It is an open fact that she is unwilling to continue beyond March-April 2020. While Rahul Gandhi may be interested in taking over again, he wants a free hand to let run the organisation as per his whims. Most senior party leaders resist that. Here, the link between electoral successor or the absence of it, is preventing Rahul from getting that sort of authority or carte blanche.

To further complicate matters, a prominent crisis manager is not keeping well and was discharged from a nursing home on Saturday.

The Income Tax department is breathing down the neck. Tax sleuths are reportedly investigating hawala and cash transactions worth Rs 400 crore reaching the Congress. Veteran Congress leaders, however, feel the party would emerge stronger and more vibrant if it is intimidated or faces ‘vendetta’ and its workers, spread across the country, would rally round the leadership.

(The author is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Views are personal)