The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong charts unofficial course

New Delhi, June 27: The Congress’ brainstorming session next month in Shimla risks dealing a blow to the party’s established decision-making bodies.

The Shimla session will effectively replace that of the AICC, which is the proper and highest forum under the Congress constitution to decide on broad policy matters.

Around 200 selected leaders will deliberate on policy issues next month instead of the 1,000-odd elected AICC members.

“No AICC session is likely to be organised between now and the general elections next year as the party would be preoccupied with the Assembly elections later this year and the Lok Sabha elections next year,” a senior party functionary said, justifying convening the brainstorming session, instead of an AICC meet, to discuss policy issues.

The party constitution provides for at least two annual meetings of the AICC.

Now, with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s multiple initiatives to revitalise the organisation through a mix of “innovative and social engineering” moves, even the party working committee is losing out.

The committee appears nowhere in the Shimla picture, unlike the Panchmarhi session five years ago where the party panel had approved all discussion papers and written the declaration.

But Shimla will not be the first instance of ad hoc, extra-constitutional bodies coming into prominence, virtually replacing the established party structures at the apex decision-making level.

Much of this could be attributed to the Congress president’s vast powers and authority. For well over a decade, the Congress has had no parliamentary board or central election committee as required by the party constitution.

Together, these two bodies are entrusted with deciding on electoral and parliamentary matters, including the selection of poll nominees. But the two bodies now exist only in the party constitution.

The working committee, though, has remained functional. Comparable to communist parties’ all-powerful politburo, the committee is defined in the Congress statute as the party’s highest executive body on policy and daily issues.

Yet, the committee appears to be losing its primacy of late. It has met only twice in the last six months — first to review the political situation post-Gujarat poll, and second, informally after the Himachal Pradesh victory in March.

The committee is steadily yielding its space to the chief ministers’ council, which Sonia set up around two years’ ago.

The party panel is also under attack from a political affairs committee that Sonia constituted two months ago.

Other informal bodies such as the economic affairs committee and several new AICC departments, created in recent times, are all eating into the committee’s powers and functions.

If these extra-constitutional bodies were intended to provide informed inputs to the working committee, these are actually threatening to weaken its authority.

Asked about the committee’s role in the Shimla preparations, the Congress general secretary in-charge of the party president’s office, Ambika Soni, said: “If required, it (the committee) may meet in Shimla as happened (at the Panchmarhi session five years ago). But there can also be some innovation over the arrangement that we had in the last session.”

The working committee will very likely not meet this time as Sonia has set up a coordination committee to decide on all matters concerning the Shimla session.

Nobody in the Congress appears to know why Sonia is deviating from the party constitution — especially when her leadership is unchallenged.

A party functionary felt the working committee might have become too unwieldy as a result of the “social engineering” within the party.

“The working committee has become a large and unwieldy body of 24 members. Unlike in the past, today there are some lightweight leaders represented on the working committee, whose inclusion is a result of social engineering — that is the conscious decision of the leadership to give more representation to SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women in the working committee,” the functionary said.

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