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Sonia puts CWC in cold storage

New Delhi, Sept. 22: It’s been many days, weeks and months since the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the apex decision-making body of the party, last met to deliberate on vital national and international issues.

The CWC had met on May 22 at the party headquarters to vet the draft on political, economic and international affairs for the May 23 AICC meet. It again met in July to condole the death of Vice-President Krishan Kant.

Congressmen are intrigued why Sonia Gandhi has chosen to bypass the CWC, which is packed with “loyalists”. It is in sharp contrast to her style of functioning. After she took over as party chief in March 1998, there were dozens of meetings every year and the trend continued till 2000, when she got an iron grip over all organs of the party. Since then, the CWC meetings have become few and far between.

A close Sonia aide said the leadership’s “indifferent” attitude towards the CWC grew as she realised that the body with more than 40 members had become “unwieldy and ungainly” for any meaningful or focussed discussion. Sonia’s supporters agree that is impossible to hold any crisp and quick discussion in the CWC.

According to the Congress constitution, the CWC should have been a 24-member body — before Sonia’s amendment, it used to be a 20-member panel. But Sonia packed it with numerous special and permanent invitees such as A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Bhajan Lal, Chinta Mohan, S.B. Chavan, J.B. Patnaik, Madhavsinh Solanki, Salman Khurshid and almost all the chief ministers of the 14 Congress-ruled states.

She then began the practice of summoning important leaders like Manmohan Singh, Shivraj Patil, Ahmad Patel, Pranab Mukherjee, usually present in Delhi, for consultations before taking any important decision. “Nobody has been complaining why the CWC meetings are not being held as the decision-making process continues to be elaborate and democratic,” a source close to Sonia said, justifying her move to curtail the meets.

The traditionalists in the party are, however, dismayed. They point out that even in the heady days of the Nehru-Gandhi-Bose standoffs, the CWC used to meet at regular intervals. “It used to meet regularly amid heated exchanges. The good practices and traditions should not be ignored,” an old-timer said.

Several others echoed the sentiment. A senior CWC member said political exigencies demanded regular CWC meetings. “The CWC resolutions and deliberations make an impact and have a greater ring of credibility. What we say collectively is taken far more seriously than routine statements from the party spokesmen,” a leader from Madhya Pradesh said.

In the past few months, there have been several important issues like the debate over electoral reforms, the Kashmir elections, the presidential reference on the Gujarat polls, the row over disinvestment, a power struggle within the BJP and the emerging international situation over Iraq and Afghanistan that required the CWC’s attention.

A section of disgruntled leaders in the Congress said Sonia got disillusioned with the CWC in May 1999 when Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar raised the foreign origin issue. “What perhaps upset Sonia most was not the rebellion, but the attitude of the rest of the CWC members, who remained mute spectators till family retainer R.K. Dhawan snubbed Sangma and Pawar,” a Congress MP from Karnataka said.

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