This Article is From Aug 22, 2023

Analysis: New Congress Working Committee - Focus On Polls, Not Rocking Boat

The announcement of this new team comes ten months after Mr Kharge took charge as Congress president, and is seen as an attempt to balance aspirations, loyalties, and push preparedness for the future.

Analysis: New Congress Working Committee - Focus On Polls, Not Rocking Boat

The new team announced on Sunday is a careful management of the old and the new. (file)

New Delhi:

With focus on state elections, and then 2024, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge's new team announced on Sunday is a careful management of the old and the new.

It plays safe, infuses some expected faces, but most importantly makes it clear that the party's primary focus will be on fighting polls, and organisational politics must not come in the way of that goal. 

The announcement of this new team comes ten months after Mr Kharge took charge as Congress president, and is seen as an attempt to balance aspirations, loyalties, and push preparedness for the future.

Members of the Gandhi family and veteran Congress leaders such as Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath, Meira Kumar, P Chidambaram, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Salman Khurshid are part of the main body, some young people such Gaurav Gogoi, and Sachin Pilot, have been accommodated too. While the expansion was due to an internal quota for youth, SCs, STs, OBCs, and women in the top executive body, the main CWC has only three members below the age of 50.

The party chose a date for it, the birth anniversary of former PM Rajiv Gandhi, to make this announcement. The victory of the party in Karnataka, the Supreme Court staying the conviction of Rahul Gandhi in a defamation case, and the critical role that the Congress is likely to play in the united opposition, are particularly important backgrounders for this new CWC.

The new CWC has multiple messages -- inclusion of Shashi Tharoor, who contested against Mallikarjun Kharge in the party presidential elections last year, young leaders such as Sachin Pilot and Gaurav Gogoi, push for social representation, and an attempt by Mr Kharge to keep everyone in the changing dynamics of State politics satisfied.

The party had last year decided to increase the size of the CWC from 23 to 35. The new CWC has 84 members in all, which includes 39 regular members, 32 permanent invitees, and 13 special invitees.

First, what is the Congress Working Committee (CWC)?

The Working Committee is the highest executive authority of the Congress that has the final say in executing the provisions of the party's constitution. It technically has the power to remove or appoint the party president, and is generally recast after the election or re-election of the Congress president.

What are the key messages from the new CWC?

Message to poll-bound States

The party faces elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram before it launches the campaign for the 2024 elections, and the new CWC makes it clear that elections are its top focus.

Former Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot has found a place in the reconstituted CWC. His inclusion is a signal from the party leadership that, despite not backing his differences with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, it is willing to give him more responsibilities in the future. 

In the last few years, the Congress has lost a lot of promising, relatively younger faces such as Sushmita Dev, Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Jyotiraditya Scindia, to the BJP or TMC. Their consistent efforts to placate Sachin Pilot is also a reflection of how the Congress wants to keep its flock together, particularly in poll-bound states. 

Rajasthan has a 25-year-old tradition of changing governments every five years, and the Ashok Gehlot government with its welfare schemes is trying to counter that. It is still an uphill task. For Congress, winning Rajasthan is crucial before the Lok Sabha elections next year, and for that it is important for Mr Gehlot and Mr Pilot to stop attacking each other. 

In Chhattisgarh, Congress has tried to send a message to the OBC voters by including Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu in the Congress Working Committee. The state's biggest OBC group, Sahus, in 2018 broke with their tradition of voting for the BJP to back the Congress, and Tamradhwaj Sahu is seen as a prominent leader of the community. In MP, the inclusion of a young MLA from Sihawal, Kamleshwar Patel, is particularly interesting. He is a second generation Congress leader, and also the OBC-Kurmi face of the party in the state that has many veterans. He has been speaking on OBC issues.

Closing the chapter of rebellion, and inclusion of some new faces

The party has retained Gandhi family loyalists, but also tried to accommodate leaders who had been dropped from party positions, or not given official positions. This includes leaders such as Pratibha Singh, who headed the Himachal Congress but lost the Chief Ministerial race to Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu.

In 2020, the G23 rebellion had rocked the Congress organisation. Senior leaders such as Anand Sharma, Manish Tewari, and Shashi Tharoor had demanded wholesale changes through a letter. It is notable that the new working committee accommodated at least five top leaders of the erstwhile rebel camp, showing that the party wanted to move on from the past. 

Most members of the previous CWC have been retained, and these include Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Manmohan Singh, AK Antony, Ambika Soni, KC Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik, P Chidambaram, Anand Sharma, Tariq Anwar, Ajay Maken, Kumari Selja, Randeep Singh Surjewala, and others.

Leaders such as Gaurav Gogoi, Sachin Pilot, Kanhaiya Kumar, Manickam Tagore, and Alka Lamba have been accommodated, and they are all likely to hold important positions in the organisation. Gaurav Gogoi, who initiated the no-confidence motion debate in the Lok Sabha and spoke sharply on the violence in Manipur, has been promoted. Party leaders who have been visibly taking on the BJP on various platforms, like Pawan Khera and Supriya Shrinate, have also been included.

Emphasis on social representation and state-wise adjustments

There has been an attempt to get the main body to reflect the Dalit, tribal, backward, and minority representation, a priority issue for the Congress as 2024 elections come closer. Six OBC, nine SCs, and one ST are part of the new body. This is significant considering Rahul Gandhi has spoken in favour of increasing the Supreme Court-mandated ceiling on reservations, and insisted on "Jitni Aabadi, Utna Haq'(the rights of any group are proportionate to its population share)". This comes at a time the BJP too is all set to roll out a nationwide scheme for OBC communities.

Last year, the party had amended its constitution to say that 50 per cent of the 35 members of the CWC shall be SC, ST, OBC, minorities, youth, and women. There has also been an attempt to balance leaders from the same state by giving them different responsibilities to ensure there is no dissent or disappointment.

For instance, the new CWC also brought in former Gujarat Congress president Jagdish Thakor. He was recently replaced as Gujarat Congress chief after the party's poor show in the assembly elections. He is an important OBC face of the Congress in Gujarat, where the party last year faced its worst poll performance, being reduced to 17 seats. Two other faces from Gujarat, Deepak Babaria and Lalji Desai, have also made it to the CWC. Former Jammu and Kashmir Congress chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir, West Bengal leader Deepa Dasmunsi, and former Andhra Pradesh Congress chief N Raghuveera Reddy have also been accommodated.

Former Union minister Deepa Dasmunsi, a known Mamata Banerjee critic, is a former Congress MLA from Goalpokhar in Uttar Dinajpur district where the BJP has made much progress in expansion. Her husband, former Union minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi of the Congress, died in 2017. Raghu Veera Reddy served as Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president for nearly five years, but he quit the post after the party fared badly in the two successive assembly elections in 2014 and in 2019. Mr Reddy was seen taking an active part in the recent 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' by the AICC leader Rahul Gandhi last year. 

There is a Delhi focus too, as the national capital is important if the AAP-Congress manage to have an alliance. Former Union minister Ajay Maken, who quit as Rajasthan Congress in-charge in November, has been reinstated, while Alka Lamba, who returned to the Congress from the AAP, has also made it.

The leadership of the Congress, how posts are filled, how elections or selections happen within the party system, have been of immense interest to anyone observing Indian politics closely. The CWC announced on Sunday is all the more critical, because it is the first major organisational reshuffle by Mr Kharge, who became the first non-Gandhi party chief in the past 20 years. He was entrusted with nominating, not electing, all the CWC members. In that regard, Mr Kharge's new team is an attempt by the party to make some changes, but without rocking the boat too much.