Barely a month after Sonia Gandhi was anointed president in a strained exhibition of inner-party freedom, the Congress has dropped all pretensions of being democratic in its functioning. The proposal to allow Sonia a carte blanche in nominating the elected quota of the Congress Working Committee (cwc) thumbs its nose at the boastful claims to democratic vigour Congressmen made when they elected Sonia party chief. The cwc threatens to be packed by those close to 10 Janpath and critics don't mask their sarcasm when they talk about President's rule in the party.
As always, there are many apologists. Says general secretary Motilal Vora: "This conforms to democratic principles...it's everyone's wish. Having given such a massive mandate to Sonia, party members have chosen to leave it to her to choose the cwc."
Sonia is yet to voice an official response, but those close to her say she'll "go along with the party's will." Says Oscar Fernandes, general secretary: "Since all aicc members want it, it's the correct way to finalise the cwc's composition." It's alleged the entire exercise was scripted with Sonia's tacit consent. Partymen claim the letters delegates sent authorising her to nominate members were originally faxed from the party HQ. These were then signed and duly returned.
In the 'normal' course, some 1,100 aicc delegates would have elected 12 of the 24 cwc members—the other half being nominees of the party chief. This equation went awry after Sonia insisted on a 33 per cent representation to women and a further 20 per cent reservation for sc/sts, obcs and minorities. So, out of the 12 members from the "elected" quota, there were to be four women and two depressed caste members. Which left only six seats free for a contest.
It was left to A.K. Antony to observe that never before have party elections been contested on sectarian lines. He's said to have asked colleagues, "Will the ballot paper have symbols for various segments? Will members say 'vote for me, I'm a Muslim?'" Digvijay Singh and P. Shiv Shankar took the logic further, saying such an election would only spawn factionalism. So, it was decided to let Sonia nominate all the members.
Not that nominations are likely to foster amity. Apart from the task of finding eight worthy women, Sonia will also have to balance the ambitions of various leaders. She has indicated that she is keen on a new-look cwc. At the same time, she told a sitting member, "What do I do with the old faces?"
Says a party official: "There are at least eight sitting members who'll have to be renominated: Fernandes, Vora, Antony, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Madhavrao Scindia, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel. That's not counting Arjun Singh or the women. This leaves her only eight slots."
Going by conventional wisdom, Sonia won't fill all 24 seats. Strategists say she will keep at least four vacant to woo disgruntled Congressmen. One view is she could widen her options by nominating a separate 7-member Central Election Committee. (Currently the cwc doubles up as the cec).
Not everyone is happy. Scindia has been pushing for elections. But others suspect this has more to do with personal ambition than a fondness for democracy. "Scindia may just win the largest number of votes. And, if there's ever a possibility of a Congress government and the allies reject Sonia, his candidature gets credibility," says a Congressman from Maharashtra.
Those like Mani Shankar Aiyer, Suresh Kalmadi and P. R. Das Munshi—who admittedly have little chance of making it—are protesting. "Elections would be in her interest. Earlier, she could blame the cwc for the party's flip-flop. After this, she'll be the single point for all blame," says an MP. Adds Chandrajeet Yadav, aicc delegate from UP, "This is how the party weakens. People want to avoid debate." It remains to be seen how Sonia handles the ticklish situation. If she packs the cwc with sycophants, she will only add to the resentment.
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