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Congress defers leader elections to June

Lack of consensus among the top brass over the road map cited apart from ensuing Assembly elections and procedural matters
Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi
File picture

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 23.01.21, 02:21 AM

The Congress hasn’t yet been able to resolve the leadership crisis after Rahul Gandhi’s resignation in July 2019, formally pushing the promised January deadline to elect the president to June after the meeting of its highest decision-making body on Friday.

Although reasons such as ensuing Assembly elections and procedural matters were cited at the Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting on Friday, it was clear that the process was going to be delayed because there was no consensus among the top leaders over the road map.

Differences cropped up at the meeting as well when two groups of leaders sparred over the desirability of organisational elections.

While some leaders, considered blind loyalists, felt there was no need for elections to the CWC or even to the post of party president and that everything should be left to Sonia Gandhi, others demanded immediate organisational polls, presenting it as a pre-requisite for the Congress’s revival.

It is ironical that the top leadership is divided between two opinions: One section believes there is a leadership crisis and it has to be addressed at the earliest; the other seeks to portray that Rahul is the leader after all, no matter whether he holds any formal position or not.

The dominant opinion, however, both within the Congress and in the larger Opposition camp is that the party is drifting rudderless and Rahul has caused immense damage to the anti-Modi politics by his vacillations.

Even the so-called blind loyalists want Rahul to return sooner than later and privately admit that precious time and energy were being lost in this avoidable mess. Rahul hasn’t indicated his readiness to return, though he has been acting like the proxy president of the party.

He will visit poll-bound Tamil Nadu on Saturday to resume the Congress campaign, as he would have done had he been the president. It was he who met a delegation from another poll-bound state, Kerala, last week, giving instructions on the action plan. Ask who would be the last word on poll-bound Bengal and Assam, the unanimous view is Rahul, not Sonia, who is more of a ceremonial head than functional president.

But the irony for the party is that while it grapples with the leadership crisis, Rahul is said to be uninterested in returning as president. In fact the issue is much more complex than his desire to return as president. It is about the leadership structure, about his choices, about the role of entrenched veterans who have reservations over his style of functioning.

Insiders know that Kamal Nath, seen as a neutral player, had been tasked by Sonia with resolving the differences with the “Group of 23” — the leaders who had written a letter to her about the drift in the party — but his mission failed.

A reluctant Sonia was advised to continue for some more months as president as forcing any plan without evolving a consensus could trigger unseemly consequences. The announcement on Friday that the Congress will get an elected president by June reflects that thinking.

The party’s election authority had suggested a schedule for May but some leaders felt the organisational elections should not affect the preparations for the upcoming Assembly polls. The earlier agreement was to complete the process by January-February and a section of the media had kept reporting that Rahul had agreed and would return as president by February.

The June date means the party will remain without an active, functional head for five months, more so at a time when the ground realities are becoming hostile against the incumbent government and the absence of an effective Opposition is being discussed everywhere.

While the state of confusion is demoralising for party workers, a senior leader told The Telegraph: “This is akin to the death wish at a time when the party has hit rock bottom and is struggling for survival.”

Nobody — Rahul loyalists or critics — are happy with the delay.

But a resolution is bound to be elusive without unity of purpose. The state of affairs in the Congress was reflected in the nature of discussions at Friday’s meeting.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot burst out at those seeking organisational elections, asking if these people had lost faith in the party president. He pointed out that leaders who always held key positions because of the blessings of the party president were now asking for internal elections, subtly questioning the personal capacities of these leaders.

This evoked a sharp response from Anand Sharma, who wondered why they were being insulted for suggesting reforms to strengthen the party. He recalled how he had worked with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and their loyalty was now being questioned after decades of service.

Sharma was not alone in asking for organisational elections as veterans such as Ghulam Nabi Azad and P. Chidambaram also sought polls to both the CWC and the central election committee.

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