At long last, we have a new Congress Working Committee. The Congress President Rahul Gandhi, seven months into his new elevated position, has found time to re-constitute the apex decision-making body of the once great party according to his lights. But there is little to inspire the party or outsiders. It is the same old mix of old and new, without any indication of a new ideological direction or organisational vigour. Yes, the changes will make differences to individual leaders. For example, the ouster of Digvijay Singh, a former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and party general secretary, signals his marginalisation in his own home State.
With the State set to elect a new Assembly later this year, Singh’s non-inclusion in Rahul’s CWC might be construed as a vote of confidence in his rival, namely Jyotiraditya Scindia, a contender for the position of Congress’s CM candidate. What role, if any, will Singh play in the MP election, with Kamal Nath as the Pradesh Congress head and Scindia a most likely contender for chief ministership, remains unclear. Yet, Singh cannot be written off, not at least in the faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh Congress. Likewise, the removal of C P Joshi from the CWC cannot mean that he is reconciled to play second fiddle to Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot, both contenders for being the party’s chief ministerial candidates. The exclusion of Bhupinder Singh Hooda is understandable, especially when his son, Deepender, a Lok Sabha MP from Rohtak, has been inducted along with Scindia and Jitin Prasada.
Though, what Prasada brings to the party’s kitty in terms of voter-support remains highly doubtful, yet the party could not have ignored the largest State in the Union. Former central ministers and former Maharashtra chief ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and Prithviraj Chavan are out. So is former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. In fact, none of the party’s three sitting chief ministers finds a place in the CWC. Again, several key States remain unrepresented, among them Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, etc. Women are vastly under-represented, though the party wants the Government to pass legislation reserving 33 percent seats in parliament and State legislatures. Sonia Gandhi selects herself as an automatic choice, while Kumari Selja has found a place because she was born a Dalit and Ambika Soni is an old family retainer. However, a few women have been listed as permanent and special invitees. Muslim representation is symbolised by two members from Kashmir, namely, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Tariq Hameed Karra, while Ahmed Patel, a veteran leader from Gujarat and Sonia Gandhi’s long-time political secretary, finds a place to represent continuity.
The omission of Jairam Ramesh is significant. Quite clearly, the party has no use for intellectually sound and academic-minded leaders in its top policy-making bodies, though they can provide useful inputs in background briefings to top leaders to earn their seats in the Rajya Sabha. Former central minister Salman Khurshid, hailing from UP, has been left out, despite his effort to galvanise his community behind the Congress. He had taken the lead in assembling a group of Muslims for a meeting with Rahul recently. The inclusion of former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and former Delhi chief minister Shiela Dikshit as special invitees signals the party’s lack of credible new faces from these States.
Why the new Congress chief failed to break fresh ground with the constitution of the CWC remains unclear. He could have moved away from a complete reliance on professional politicians to induct public-spirited professionals in order to break free from the set-piece conventional Congress politics of patronage and group interests. Given that the urban population is growing, given that its members have an influential voice even for the people deep in the interior, given that a section of the people are unhappy at the egregious doings of the vigilante groups associated with the ruling combine, Rahul showed a surprise lack of initiative to induct any one from this independent segment into the CWC. The CWC is overrun by professional politicians who collectively have brought the party to this sorry pass. It offers not much hope of the party’s revival — unless the BJP lends a helping hand. Which it well may.