Is Congress a “democratic party” that is guided by its own constitution, let alone that of the country? It is a question worth asking, with the Election Commission (EC) not in a mood to grant the party further time beyond 30 June for conducting its already overdue internal elections on the one hand and India’s oldest party attributing motives to and questioning the “timing” of the decision of the Commission on the other. Now, Congress is literally demanding a ‘second extension’ till 31 December, 2017 by the Commission on the dubious ground that it cannot hold organisational elections before June, busy as it is with the ongoing Assembly elections. In fact, Congress has gone to the extent of saying that “on a jurisdictional basis”, the EC could not “fix a date for any political party” for holding polls, for which the party is not “fully ready”.
It may be noted that under the “Guidelines” prescribed by the Election Commission of India in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 324 of the Constitution of India and Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, every registered political party of the country must be run by the rules and regulations that are in consonance with the Constitution of India in such a manner that two/thirds of its leaders in various party organs are democratically elected by the members, that no leader can have veto power, that no leader can have a fixed tenure of more than five years, and that there are periodic elections within “maximum five years”.
Assuming that the Congress had held such elections at its 83rd plenary in Burari on the outskirts of Delhi in December 2010, when it also amended its constitution to increase the tenure of the Congress President and other office bearers from three to five years, organisational polls were due in 2015. On 26 May, 2015, the EC wrote to the Congress, asking a status report in this regard. Later that year, the party requested the EC to extend the deadline for conclusion of internal elections until December 2016. The reason that it cited for the extension, which was granted by the EC, was that the party could not hold membership drives due to Assembly polls in states like West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu as well as drought and floods in several other states.
However, the party did not stick to this deadline either. On the other hand, it sought on 16 December, 2016, another extension until 31 December, 2017. But this time, the EC has rejected the plea.
It remains to be seen how the EC is going to react. But one thing is clear: Congress has exposed once again the lack of inner democracy in the party. This, in turn, is an irony, given the fact that Congress that led the country in gaining independence had in the past a clear chain of command from the block level to the national level such as All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the Congress Working Committee (CWC). In the resultant pyramidical structure of the party, one was to move to the top through democratic elections below, that is from the block, district, state (Pradesh Congress Committee or PCC) to the AICC and CWC. The important leaders of the party had, thus, to earn their positions. This was in sharp contrast to the present situation in which one joins the party today to become a minister tomorrow. In the past, therefore, the leaders of the Congress had nothing to fear about their status and positions from the big bosses of the party.
For instance, against the wishes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Purushottam Das Tandon got elected as the party president by the AICC in 1950. Similarly, in 1963, Nehru was forced to constitute a CWC in which 10 out of 13 members had differed with him on most of the policy issues. In yet another example, despite every possible effort of veteran Kamraj in 1965, Morarji Desai could not be toppled from the party high command.
In a sense, this vibrant democracy was the innate strength of the Congress. However, things started to change after Indira Gandhi assumed charge. Congress gradually became a highly centralised organisation. The upward mobility of a party worker now depended more on the favour of the top leadership than one’s work at the grassroots. In fact, things deteriorated to such an extent that under Rajiv Gandhi, more than ten PCC Presidents were not even PCC members and some AICC general secretaries were not even members of the AICC, not to speak of being members of the CWC, which according to the party constitution, should have been the case. This, incidentally, was a big irony as it was Rajiv Gandhi, who in the beginning of his party leadership, had promised to hold the organisational elections to get the Congress rid of “power brokers”. Besides, it was under the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi that the Representation of People Act, 1951 was amended in 1989 to include Section 29, which deals with the provisions for registration of political parties with the Election Commission of India.
Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi became the Congress president in 1998 under controversial circumstances that saw the humiliating sacking of Sitaram Kesri, who was elected president in 1997 for a three–year term. She was re-elected in 2001, but she continued until 2005 by breaking the rule of three-year tenure. That year, she got herself re-elected but again broke the rule of three-year tenure to continue until 2010. That year, the party amended this rule and made the tenure of the party president five years. After this amendment, Sonia should have sought a fresh term in 2015. But that has not happened; seven years on, she remains in charge.
Even otherwise, many features of the Congress constitution are being more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Take, for instance, the criteria for being a Congress member that include, among others, that he/she is “a habitual weaver of certified Khadi”; that he/she “abstains from alcoholic drinks and intoxicant drugs”; that he/she “undertakes to perform minimum tasks including manual labour as may be prescribed by the Working Committee”; that he/she “does not own any property in excess of the ceiling laws applicable to him/her; that he/she “subscribes to and works for promoting the principles of secularism, socialism and democracy; does not, directly or indirectly, openly or otherwise, adversely criticise the accepted policies and programmes of the party, except through party forums; and that he/she “shall subscribe to the periodicals approved by AICC.”(this provision makes one wonder why the Congress-owned National Herald newspaper was closed given lakhs and lakhs of registered Congress members). How many Congress members today fulfil these criteria?
Incidentally, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) is the party’s highest decision-making body. Congress, in its letter to the EC for extension of polls-date has cited the resolution of the CWC that has extended Sonia Gandhi’s presidency by the end of 2017. It has argued how EC’s deadline was "in conflict" with a resolution of CWC, which is the party's highest decision-making body, implying that “any contravention could then amount to violating the very party constitution the EC seeks to uphold”.
But then, does the CWC adhere to the party’s stated constitutional terms? Not really. The CWC, according to party constitution, “shall consist of the President of the Congress, the Leader of the Congress Party in Parliament and 23 other members of whom 12 members will be elected by the AICC, as per rules prescribed by the Working Committee and the rest shall be appointed by the President. The President shall appoint a Treasurer and one or more General Secretaries from amongst the members of the Working Committee. The President will have power to appoint one or more Secretaries / Joint Secretaries from elected members of the AICC. The Secretaries / Joint Secretaries will discharge the duties as may be assigned to them by the President. Ordinarily members of the Working Committee will be appointed from amongst the members of the AICC but in special cases, delegates who are not members of the AICC may be appointed; provided however, that a delegate so appointed shall cease to be a member of the Working Committee if he is not elected as member of the AICC within six months of his appointment."
However, the fact remains that in the last 45 years, elections to the CWC have been held only twice — 1992 and 1997- when PV Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri were presidents respectively. That means that in the rest of these 45 years that the party has been under the strict control of the Gandhi family (Indira, Rajiv, Sonia Rahul), CWC has been filled with nominated members rather than elected ones. Even the post of Vice President that Rahul Gandhi occupies does not find a mention in the party constitution; it was created in 2013 especially for him.
So where is that Congress which under Gandhi and Nehru heralded democracy in the country?
Published Date: Feb 12, 2017 09:31 am | Updated Date: Feb 12, 2017 09:31 am