Finally, 10-months after he was elected as the Congress president Mr Mallikarjun Kharge has reconstituted Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body. Contrary to expectations, the final exercise falls short on promises such as a drastic make-over and 50 percent representation for persons below the age of 50 apart from representation to SC/ST/OBCS/Women in equal measures.
By all dimensions the 84-member CWC divided into three categories-39 regular members, 32 permanent invitees and 13 special invitees, is jumbo sized and a please all exercise. Taking shape ahead of the crucial phase of assembly elections to be followed by Lok Sabha polls Mr Kharge has adopted the safer recourse to critically balance and leave no space for dissent.
Apparently, it is with this intention that Mr Kharge has not touched the Gandhi family loyalists including members of the old-guard. And also accommodated leaders who had recently been divested of party positions and sulking in the wings. Prominent among those who fall in this category are Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Mrs Pratibha Singh who had aspired to become state chief minister and former Jammu and Kashmir Congress Chief Mr Ghulam Ahmed Mir.
No one had expected a thorough shake-up but with the fresh emergence of Mr Rahul Gandhi after his successful Bharat Jodo Yatra and public acceptance of his refurbished image as a well-intentioned leader who means business, a comparatively young looking CWC with a greater focus on social engineering was the least that could have happened. Ostensibly, the poll compulsions coupled with trying times the party is passing through, has led to an over-sized body ultimately making it an experience and young blend.
Seemingly, a successful attempt has been made in critically balancing the rival factions particularly in the poll-bound states of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where the sitting chief ministers have been facing dissent ever since they assumed charge. Despite that the governments are comfortably completing their terms.
By far the key development in this rejig has been the elevation of Mr Sachin Pilot to CWC. He had been engaged in a protracted battle with chief minister Mr Ashok Gehlot expecting to replace the latter.
Recently, Mr Kharge was able to pacify Mr Pilot paving way for his elevation to the party’s highest decision- making body alongside becoming member of the state screening committee which is key in the selection of candidates for assembly elections.
There is the other side to it as well. Although as a matter of precedent the chief ministers are usually invited to the CWC meetings, by not making Mr Gehlot a member and including his bete noire Mr Pilot also meant an exercise in critically balancing the power structure. Perhaps, by elevating Mr Pilot the party has sought to create a mechanism to keep a tab on the chief minister.
A similar formula seemed to have been adopted to assuage the feelings in another poll-bound state Chhattisgarh by elevating state minister Mr Tamradhwaj Sahu, who is an OBC leader and a contender for the chief minister’s post in 2018.
By elevating him the party has also given representation to OBCs particularly the Sahus who are the main constituents in this group and had shifted their loyalty to Congress in 2018 after breaking the tradition of being BJP loyalists.
Although the party’s commitment to give 50 percent representation to SC/ST/OBC/minorities/youth/women in the 35-member CWC, it has not been visible in the new body. Nevertheless a desperate attempt has been made on providing social representation. This commitment had come in the form of an amendment in the party constitution affected last year.
In view of the elections to Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Manipur state assemblies, an attempt has been made in reflecting the Dalit, OBC, Tribal, and Women’s representation in some form and measure.
This is reflected in giving representation to six OBCs, against just one in the previous committee, nine SCs, one ST apart from women and members of the minority communities and understandable as the BJP is laying greater focus particularly on OBCs with an eye on the elections.
Interestingly, a young tribal leader from Rajasthan Mr Mahendrajeet Malviya and a young OBC MLA from Madhya Pradesh Mr Kamleshwar Patel find their way into the CWC. As both the states are poll-bound to be quickly followed by Lok Sabha elections, this is a step in-line with party’s strategy to reach out to these communities.
No one had expected that Kerala MP Mr Shashi Tharoor would be kept out of the CWC. Still, his inclusion in the backdrop of the fact that he had challenged Mr Kharge in the presidential elections makes it significant. As also he was one of the signatories to the now defunct G20 group led by Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad who has since floated his own party. By doing so the Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Kharge have given legitimacy to a democratic practice and norm.
A similar spirit has worked in accommodating the remaining members of the G20 group who had questioned the leadership of Mrs Gandhi at that point in time and vainly tried to shake the Congress. It makes sense that Mr Anand Sharma, Mr Manish Tiwari, Mr Veerapa Moily and Mr Mukul Wasnik have been made members of the CWC in one or the other category.
Although it was desirable that some among the old-guard should have made way for the generation next leaders but that was not to be. The Gandhi family loyalists, and veterans such as Mr P Chidambaram, Mrs Ambika Soni, Mrs Meera Kumar, Mr Abhishekh Manu Singhvi, and Mr Salman Khurshid are to act as a cushion and a balancing force along with loyalists and younger leaders such as Mr K C Venugopal, Mr Ajay Maken, Mr Bhanwar Jitendra Singh and Mr Manickam Tagore, and freshers such as Mr Gaurav Gogoi and Mr Pilot.
It is a laudable step no matter whether it is a poll season or not. It reflects the mature leadership of Mr Kharge at work. The underlying idea seems to be to leave no space for dissent and present the party as a united and cohesive house in the Lok Sabha elections.
This policy of accommodation reflected in the CWC formation could also act as an olive branch to other Congress leaders sulking on the corners. Not only that, it is a strong message to those having deserted the party that the current leadership was prepared to forget the past and make a common cause with them in the wider interest of Congress.
Will they bite the bait or not?