The Telegraph
Thursday , June 19 , 2014
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Rahul stays firm on party polls

New Delhi, June 18: Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that elections in the Youth Congress would continue and that he planned to hold them in the parent party, too.

The assertion came days ago when doubts about the benefits of holding elections were raised within the Youth Congress, echoing an overwhelming sentiment in the parent organisation that these were creating divisions and bitterness.

Rahul said deficiencies in the electoral model could be addressed but there was no question of abandoning the idea of opening up the system.

At a meeting here at the Constitution Club on May 29-30, some Youth Congress leaders expressed concern over the election process; particularly the use of big money.

One leader told The Telegraph: “There were complaints that money was playing a big role. Then we often face difficulties in accommodating young talent from outside who want important posts in the organisation, as all the posts are occupied by elected office-bearers.”

Another Youth Congress leader said: “We want to facilitate accommodation of new entrants. It is wrong to say people opposed elections per se, but certain changes to improve the processes could come. We need to be flexible. Rahulji said he was doing nothing new, this has been mandated by the party constitution. He also said bari Congress mein bhi karaenge (election will happen in the main party too).”

The elections are conducted by the Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections (FAME) — an independent NGO run by former election commissioners J.M. Lyngdoh, T.S. Krishnamurthy, N. Gopalaswami and K.J. Rao. The election model ensures representation of all sections of society with a general secretary’s post each reserved for women, SC/STs, OBCs and minorities, in addition to three in the open category along with the posts of president and vice-president.

The elections take place at four levels — booth, Assembly, Lok Sabha and state committee — every two years. Only elected state committee members can get into the national committee.

Anybody less than 35 years of age, not affiliated to any other party and not convicted in any case can contest. An aspirant who is not a Youth Congress member can get enrolled as one and fight the election straightaway.

There have been complaints that people with no commitment to the Congress ideology, including property dealers and musclemen, have risen up the ladder by winning elections at the cost of genuine Youth Congress members. But there is also acknowledgement that the elections have brought into the organisation a large number of youths from humble backgrounds and without any political network.

Initially, the introduction of elections in the Youth Congress was hailed as a revolutionary step and presented as a key attribute of Rahul’s leadership. In November 2011, at the first national convention of elected Youth Congress office-bearers in Delhi, most senior party leaders described the election as a milestone only Rahul’s vision could have brought about.

Rahul had then said: “I have got to the first base; I wanted to democratise the Youth Congress and have today filled this camp with elected representatives. You all are here because of your own might, not with the blessings of any leader. Nobody can remove you, not even Rahul Gandhi.”

Addressing the convention, he had continued: “Other political parties ridicule this change I have brought about but I believe the biggest corruption lies in the structure of political parties, and (that the) deepening of internal democracy will help in cleansing the system, too.”

Ironically, most senior party leaders soon developed an antipathy for the elections and suggested in private conversations that Rahul was destroying the Youth Congress.

When veterans like Amarinder Singh and Kishore Chandra Deo spoke up against elections in Youth Congress recently, they were echoing the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the central and state leaders and present and former MPs.

After the shocking defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, Deo said in an interview: “Rahul Gandhi wanted free and fair elections in Youth Congress. In reality, whosoever had money/resources got more members enrolled and got themselves elected. Rahul’s intentions were good but his theoretical experiments, given the kind of system we have, boomeranged in practical terms. Because those experiments went through the same channels which were there to defeat the experiments. It is a vicious circle. For that you can’t blame Rahul. Yes, it is true many apolitical persons too were given key political responsibilities.”

Amarinder told a newspaper: “I tried my best at that stage to tell him (Rahul) that ‘do not do these elections’. I spoke to the Congress president who, too, spoke to him. But he had made up his mind that something had to be put in place and shouldn’t be interfered with.

“I told him pre-2012 that, ‘You will divide each village, which will have its own Youth Congress, and that means it will get divided right to the top; even parents take sides in such a situation, we will have problem’. He didn’t listen and that is exactly what happened.”

The Youth Congress now has more than four lakh elected office-bearers. Tribal and Dalit girls from ordinary families, pao sellers and rickshaw-pullers and a large number of youths whose families had nothing to do with politics have joined.

But the statements of Amarinder and Deo are a pointer to the resistance Rahul will face if he tries, as he has promised, to hold elections in the parent party.

The Congress Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of the party, has not had an election since Sonia Gandhi took over in 1998. State unit chiefs are also handpicked by the high command. A more recent development is the announcement of the selection of even district chiefs in Delhi. Even before Sonia took over, elections would only be held sometimes, with office-bearers chosen mostly by consensus or by the high command.