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Showdown in CWC; change-seekers seek elected CEC, parliamentary board

Showdown in CWC; change-seekers seek elected CEC, parliamentary board 2

New Delhi: A virtual meeting of the Congress Working Committee witnessed heated exchanges on Friday after ‘change seekers’ implicitly demanded revival of the all-powerful Congress Parliamentary Board (CPB), by seeking an elected Central Election Committee (CEC) along with an elected CWC and party president.

It led to ‘loyalists’ attack on ‘change seekers’, while the Gandhis remained non-committed to the demand. The meeting ended after the CWC postponed the party chief election to June. Pre-occupation with assembly polls was given as reason, though it was meant to shield Rahul Gandhi from adverse assembly poll verdicts.

Soon after the Central Election Authority’s recommendation to hold polls to Congress president’s post and half the electable berths in CWC was read out, senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and P Chidambaram demanded an elected CEC, citing provisions in the party constitution and the need for functional reforms .

The current CEC is headed by interim chief Sonia Gandhi and her nominated members, who make the final candidate selections for the Lok Sabha and assembly polls. The demand for an elected CEC would mean electing a CPB, as the party constitution envisages CEC shall comprise the Congress president plus nine elected CWC members, including party’s leader in Parliament who form the CPB, plus nine elected by an AICC session as CEC members. Since the new president would be only completing tenure of Rahul Gandhi, who resigned midway, an AICC session is enough to elect the new chief. A plenary session will not be needed.

An elected CPB-CEC arrangement would make the leadership and decision-making collective and democratic and the Congress president will be just first among equals and without right to unilaterally sack elected members or pack top party bodies with handpicked nominees. The CPB and elected CEC were done away when Narasimha Rao was party chief. His successors Sitaram Kesri, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi found it convenient and never revived it.

Sources said AK Antony, Ambika Soni, Ashok Gehlot and Harish Rawat objected to the demand made by Azad and three others. Antony supported election to the party chief’s post and CWC but tactfully opposed electing a CEC. Soni questioned the very purpose of election for even president’s post. Gehlot put up the most aggressive show. He asked Azad and Chidambaram what credential they had outside the party. Such demands went against the party’s interests when farmers’ agitation was needling the Centre, Gehlot said. He wondered if anybody asked whether “Amit Shah or Nadda were elected BJP presidents.”

Sharma and Wasnik then countered them by reading out the party constitution on elected CEC. Sources said Sharma told Gehlot and Soni that those who sought elections were in Congress since Indira Gandhi era and all subsequent party chiefs and CM Gehlot, like them, were identified as Congress leaders. Sharma cautioned against “undignified language” for “verbal sycophancy” and asserted no one had any right to insult fellow CWC members, sources said. Rahul Gandhi then intervened to say Gehlot should not have used “harsh words”. “Let us get over with this organisational elections” he said and stressed the need for the party to stand by the agitating farmers. The CWC then decided to call an AICC session in June to elect the party chief/CWC but other demands, now left to CEA, could simmer on.

“Though the CEA had given a schedule to hold the organisational elections in May, the CWC felt it in view of the assembly elections, the scheduled may be changed a bit. So, there will be an elected Congress president in June,” AICC general secretary organisation KC Venugopal announced at a news conference after the meeting.

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