There is no talk in the Congress about internal elections, despite a weak organisation continuing to be the bane of the 132-year-old party.
A schedule was prepared for elections to elect functionaries at various levels in 2015, a year after the party was reduced to 44 members in the Lok Sabha. With the hope that vice-president Rahul Gandhi would become party chief at the end of the exercise.
However, the party dropped the plan even before its rollout. Both in 2015 and 2016, it told the Election Commission of India that it had extended the tenure of party chief Sonia Gandhi for another year. That window ends in December this year but there’s still no word on the internal elections. Despite having now lost Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while sliding still further down in Uttar Pradesh.
Sonia Gandhi has not been in good health and is abroad for a check-up. Rahul Gandhi, out of sight for three days after the Assembly results on March 11, and having dubbed the UP loss as a “little down”, has flown to take care of her.
In 2015, sources had cited poor membership drives in states as one of the key reasons why the elections had been postponed indefinitely. In a recent communication to the national poll panel, the Congress said it was still waiting for updated membership lists from state units.
Party senior Mullapally Ramachandran was, as head of the national unit’s Central Election Authority, given the responsibility to conduct the internal elections. He says units from Bihar, West Bengal and some other populous states had first sought postponement, as they were busy preparing for the Assembly polls in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
In between many states suffered from natural calamities, which impacted the membership drives, added the veteran Lok Sabha member from Vatakara in Kerala. He said he was pursuing the internal polls vigorously in 2015 but was asked by the high command to defer the exercise. “The high command will take the final call in the matter,” he stated.
The plan was that the internal polls would have started at the level of district units and moved upwards from state units to the All India Congress Committee. And, end with election for the post of Congress president. Party managers wanted to ensure a unanimous election for Rahul as the next president, something which would have looked democratic and sent a message that he was not para-dropped. Sonia had become party chief through a similar process in 1998.
After every defeat in state polls -- Haryana, Maharashtra, Assam, Kerala, Uttarakhand or UP -- since 2014, a common refrain from Congress managers has been that the organisation is weak and needed to be strengthened. But, little action has been seen on the ground even as the party continues to cede political space to the BJP.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the most influential politician in the country, after the SP-Congress alliance failed to stop the BJP in UP. On Saturday, he said the Congress' organisational structure was no match to that of the BJP-RSS combine. The leadership, he says, needs to devise state-specific strategies if serious about taking on Modi in the 2019 national poll.
Amid uncertainty over Rahul’s promotion as party chief, there is a clamour that the party VP needs to take some hard decisions to remove deadwood, bringing in new people to prepare for future challenges.
“Congressmen have great expectations from Rahul and are waiting for him to take over as president. We shall do well in the next round of Assembly polls,” says veteran Anil Shastri. Former home minister Sushilkumar Shinde agrees that Rahul would soon be party chief. Satyravrat Chaturvedi says the time for easy options is over and urges Rahul to think deep and long-term, to pull the party out of the current mess.