New Delhi: Under pressure from the group of 23 dissenting leaders over a lack of active leadership in the party, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Friday unanimously decided to elect a new party president in June 2021.
After a three-hour-long deliberation on various national issues, the most crucial being the ongoing farmers’ agitations, the party’s general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal told the media that while the central election authority of the party headed by Madhusudan Mistry had scheduled internal elections in May 2021, the CWC felt that that those could interfere with party’s prospects in the upcoming assembly polls in various states.
“A little rescheduling was needed (because of the impending assembly elections),” Venugopal said, adding that the change of schedule will be decided very soon.
The announcement puts to rest all speculations over whether the new party president will be an elected one or nominated. It remains to be seen whether the rebel group, which is often referred to as G-23, will field one of its representatives for the position or not.
However, sources in the party told The Wire that the decision to hold elections was taken only after a debate within the CWC. While the rebel leaders pressed for elections, those loyal to the Gandhi family tried to deflect the issue by concentrating discussions on the upcoming assembly polls.
Rahul Gandhi, who will most likely contest the elections for the party’s top post, is said to have favoured an election in the party over a nomination process. NDTV reported that Rahul intervened in the CWC to say, “Once and for all, finish it and move on.”
Senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and P. Chidambaram, who have shown their preference for organisational polls, were among the leaders in the meeting who argued in favour of conducting immediate polls. However, Gandhi loyalists like Ashok Gehlot, A.K. Antony, Tariq Anwar and Oommen Chandy said that the polls should be postponed until all the five assembly polls end in May 2021.
According to NDTV, one leader among the Gandhi loyalists said, “Whose agenda are we working towards? The BJP doesn’t talk about internal elections like our party. The first priority is to fight the state elections, then organisational elections.”
Eventually, it was decided that the polls could be postponed until June, so as to not impact the election prospects in the assembly polls in any way.
Even as this long-awaited decision was taken, the primary agenda of the CWC meet was to discuss the ongoing farmers’ agitations, the leaked WhatsApp chats between Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami and former BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta which indicated that the Union government may have leaked crucial national security information on the 2019 Balakot airstrike even before it happened, and the COVID-19 vaccination drive. The CWC passed three resolutions addressing these subjects.
“There is only one demand of India’s farmers and farm labourers – repeal the three objectionable laws. But the Government continues to side-step, malign, deceive and hoodwink the farmers by attempting to tire out, intimidate and divide the farmers. Let the BJP Government understand one unequivocal truth – India’s farmers shall neither bow down, nor be cowed down. The CWC demands that the Modi Government should forthwith repeal the three Anti-Agriculture Laws,” the resolution on farmers’ protests read.
Venugopal later said that the Congress will also chart a “top to bottom level action plan” to press the Narendra Modi government to repeal the three controversial farm laws. “We had a detailed discussion on the ongoing farmers agitation which is paining the real soul of the country. Already 60 days are over. The government is still in an indifferent mood towards the farmers’ agitation,” he said, adding that district-level agitations and state-level conventions on the matter will be planned before February 28. He also said that ahead of the parliamentary sessions in February, the Congress will join hands with like-minded parties to put pressure on the government to repeal the laws.
Demanding “a time-bound investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee to enquire into the breach of national security, violations of the Official Secrets Act and the role of the persons involved” in the Arnab Goswami controversy, the Congress resolution said, “The CWC expresses its grave concern at recent revelations exposing the sordid conversations that have undoubtedly compromised national security. It is clear that among those involved are persons in the highest echelons of government and there has been a breach of secrecy concerning vital and sensitive military operations. The revelations also point to inexcusable and deliberate subversion of Government structures, scandalous and extraneous influence over Government policies, and a vicious attack on the independence of the judiciary. The shameful compromise of the Modi Government with non-government players has been exposed.”
“It is shocking that days after the revelations, the Prime Minister and the Central government remain silent on the issue as though the storm will pass. Their silence underlines their collusion, complicity and guilt,” it added.
As far as the COVID-19 vaccination drive is concerned, the party resolution recorded “its deep appreciation and gratitude to India’s scientists and researchers who worked tirelessly to develop the Corona Vaccine in a record time”.
However, it also said that the “lack of clarity” about the availability of the vaccine for the marginalised sections of the Indian population is a matter of concern. The note also advocated that the vaccine should be available free of charge for them and expressed its dismay over reports that it may be sold in the open market at a steep Rs 2,000.
“CWC calls upon the Central government to take all steps necessary to overcome the hesitancy amongst front-line health professionals on Covid-19 vaccination. To a large extent, this hesitancy is on account of the blatant politicisation of the regulatory process in order to boost the image of the Prime Minister. The CWC believes that the vaccination programme should be conducted in a manner that enhances public confidence and trust. Time, numbers and avoidance of wastage are critical. Apart from front-line health professionals, the state governments should be given the option of laying out a state-specific order of beneficiaries, so that the vaccination programme is taken forward with utmost speed and efficiency,” the resolution said.