When A.O. Hume founded the Congress, it was an association of like-minded people with a definite aim, seeking a line of action through debate and discussion. Much of this tradition was obscured later. In Indira Gandhi’s time, the party became essentially a personality-centred one, and the structured organs of the party, such as the Congress working committee, were systematically weakened. This was not always so. For the early leaders, the forum for structured debate had been central to party activity. The decisions arrived at through such discussions by a formal body determined to a large extent the direction the party would take, and as such, were given due importance by Congress presidents and leaders. Times have changed again since the first Mrs Gandhi was president of the party. The younger Mrs Gandhi has been successful in restoring much of the balance that had gone awry. She has played wisely on her acceptability as party chief, and her efforts to energize and rejuvenate the party have paid off in the main. The CWC had become particularly active since 1998, when she became the president of the all India Congress committee. So it is surprising to find the sudden decline in the number of CWC meetings — the last meeting was held in July to condone the death of Krishan Kant and the meeting before that had been held in May.
As a staple of party organization, the CWC is a marker of political strength and credibility. It is precisely from organization that the Bharatiya Janata Party derives its strength — the lessons learnt in the stick-wielding ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have not gone to waste. The rigid party organization of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) too is the secret of its hardiness. On the other hand, the uncertain institutional role of the internal bodies of the Congress tends to have negative effects, whether the party positions itself as opposition or as party-in-waiting. But Ms Sonia Gandhi has a double advantage. Her leadership of the party is the most unnerving factor for rivals; it is no wonder that Mr Narendra Modi, Ms J. Jayalalithaa and their ilk repeatedly seize upon her “origins” to rant about. This is a sure index of her indisputable importance. A strong and lively party forum, which displays the Congress’s organizational strength and articulates its policies, can only add to her stature. Making it peripheral would not serve anyone’s interests, neither the party’s nor its leader’s. If the wolf is the strength of the pack, the pack is the strength of the wolf. Ms Sonia Gandhi would gain in strength from the CWC’s visible presence in Congress policy.