Herald View: Congress on the comeback trail

The reconstitution of the CWC ahead of the assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and MP (and the Lok Sabha elections in 2024) show that the Congress means business

Congress workers ready to fight the upcoming assembly elections with renewed vigour (photo: National Herald archives)
Congress workers ready to fight the upcoming assembly elections with renewed vigour (photo: National Herald archives)

Herald View

Slower than its well-wishers might want it, still erring perhaps on the side of caution, less than ideal maybe by some lights in balancing pre-election tactical considerations with the ideological imperative, but the Congress is certainly back to be counted as a full-bodied political alternative.

From a slightly zoomed-out perspective, the recently reconstituted Congress Working Committee (CWC) is a sign that the party organisation is thrumming with life again, and the slow yet steady build-up—which began with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and then gained momentum with the party’s electoral triumphs in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh—is making it increasingly obvious that the Congress will be the fulcrum of the Opposition alliance going into the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.

The naysayers and nitpickers will do what they do best, and have you think that the reconstituted CWC is at best a delicate balancing act. It is that too—and commendable for those reasons as well—but it is also a political statement with other registers of meaning.

It couldn’t have been easy for party president Mallikarjun Kharge and his team to walk the tightrope and perhaps even overcome some prejudices to make space for all those who made it to the new team of 84 in the enlarged CWC.

As you zoom in, you’ll find, in the patchwork quilt of the new CWC, names that represent experience, sagacity and a deeply held sense of party tradition. You’ll also find names that represent the next generation of leaders and future minders of the Congress legacy; names that represent the party’s frontline bodies—the Youth Congress, the NSUI (National Students’ Union of India), the Mahila Congress, the Seva Dal; names of people whose faith in the party has wavered in the past; names that demanded organisational elections and even rebelled for those demands…

You can think of it as a ‘compromise’, a ‘hodgepodge’ of this, that and the other—aspersions no doubt familiar—or you can think of it as an accommodating, inclusive world view, an umbrella that shelters both loyalists and dissenters.

If fighting for a more inclusive India forms the cornerstone of the party’s fightback against a divisive, majoritarian adversary, the new CWC also bears evidence that the Congress is re-ordering its own house on the same lines.

The scheduled castes/ tribes (SC/ST), the Other Backward Communities (OBC), the minorities and women comprise two-thirds of the new CWC members. (At the Udaipur ‘chintan shivir’ in May 2022, the Congress had declared its intention to become a more youthful party—to that end, it would re-engineer the party’s age profile, so that people under the age of 50 make up no less than 50 per cent of all committees—from the CWC down to block committees. This declaration was later nuanced at the party’s Raipur session, and the constitution amended to state that SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities, youth and women would comprise at least 50 per cent of CWC members.)

The new CWC list of 84, issued on 20 August, includes 39 ‘CWC members’, 18 ‘permanent invitees’, 14 ‘(state) in-charges’, nine ‘special invitees’ and four ‘ex-officio members’. If the team is still packed with veterans—such as Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Digvijaya Singh, A.K. Antony, Ambika Soni, Meira Kumar—it also makes room for the likes of Sachin Pilot, Gaurav Gogoi and Jitendra Singh.

If a lot of media commentaries have focused on the induction of Pilot and Shashi Tharoor, it is not without reason. Tharoor, you’ll remember, was among the so-called ‘G23 rebels’, who had doubled down on their demand for organisational elections in the party and he ran against Kharge for party president. With his induction into the CWC core group, Kharge has signalled the party’s capacity for accommodating challengers and dissenters when intentions are not in doubt.

Pilot’s elevation, despite his many public run-ins with incumbent Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, is similarly laden with import—it also recognises his potential to make a difference to the party’s prospects in election-bound Rajasthan.

More than anything else, the reconstitution of the CWC, ahead of the crucial assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh at the end of the year, and then the Lok Sabha elections a few months later, is an indication to both the party’s political rivals and its allies that the Congress means business.

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