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This article was first published 1 year ago  » News » 'Is Kharge What Young India Needs?

'Is Kharge What Young India Needs?

October 04, 2022 15:40 IST
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'Dr Shashi Tharoor by far is a much better choice.'

IMAGE: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with her likely successor Mallikarjun Kharge at Rajghat, October 2, 2022. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo

The Indian National Congress will soon elect a new president, and it is historical because this is the first time in more than 20 years that the party will have someone who is not from the Nehru family as party chief.

Sonia Gandhi became Congress president in 1998 after Sitaram Kesri's unceremonious ouster.

Sonia continued as party president till 2017 when she was succeeded by her son Rahul Gandhi, who resigned after the Congress's debacle in the 2019 general election.

Post Rahul's resignation, Sonia Gandhi stepped in as interim party president. She will step down after the party elects a new president next fortnight.

In the fray are Dr Shashi Tharoor, former United Nations diplomat, author and the three-time member of Parliament from Thiruvananthapuram, and veteran Mallikarjun Kharge, who resigned as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha to contest the election.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ asks former Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha how he sees the coming Congress president's election.

"Firstly, the party will have to grapple with the reality that India is changed and secondly, the BJP is playing with different rules of the game," says Jha, author of The Great Unravelling: India After 2014 and The Superstar Syndrome: Making of a Champion.

"Both Modi and Shah have completely redefined Indian politics through their saam, dand, bhed politics."


How do you see that after 20 years there is an election for the Congress president's post?

I would say better late than never.

The fact that the Congress party is holding an election for the president's post after two decades is a positive step in the right direction.

I need to say that it should have actually happened earlier and had it happened earlier, the Congress would have been a more politically stronger organisation.

But at the end of the day I am glad that the Congress party is pushing ahead with much needed transparency and reform that was required.

Will it be enough? I am not so sure.

In my opinion, there should have been elections to the Congress Working Committee. So, it is not a complete exercise, but at least it increases optimism that the Congress is at last beginning to wake up for challenges ahead.

What is the importance of the Congress Working Committee elections?

It is the most important organisation of the Congress party.

It is like a cabinet (of the government).

While the Congress president can nominate people to the CWC, the fact remains that the majority of the members are elected (by the All Indian Congress Committee).

What has happened in the last couple of decades is that the Congress party passes a resolution telling the president of the party to nominate everyone in the CWC and they become part of the CWC. So there have been no elections for the CWC.

When was the last election held for the CWC?

It was more than three decades ago.

Last time it was when the late Arjun Singh and the late Pranab Mukherjee who contested for CWC posts.

It hasn't happened for the last three decades.

These are lost opportunities. You have to have people who are popular among the people get elected to the CWC.

Now, if the CWC becomes a rubber stamp, the president of the party will have a free ride.

Today, if you have elected a president and you have elected a CWC, then the elected CWC will always keep the Congress president in check.

What has happened in the Congress party is that the president is not elected and s/he chooses his/her team which is why the Congress president is so secure in his/her job that no one keeps the president on his/her toes.

Still a long way to go.

Recently, Ajay Kumar Lallu, the former Congress chief in Uttar Pradesh under whose leadership the party got a drubbing in the UP assembly elections, was appointed as a special invitee to the CWC. What was his qualification besides being a close aide of Priyanka Gandhi?

The CWC has become a monumental joke.

One of the reasons why the Congress has become extremely weak and fragile is because the CWC became just a paper tiger.

They have no powers as everybody has become a 'yes man' to the Congress president.

These CWC members were obliged because they were appointed by the Congress president.

Nobody dared to speak out their mind independently. They felt that they were part of a loyalist gang.

This is not the way it is meant to be. It is like a board of directors who have to act independently. They cannot be saying 'yes' to the CEO all the time.

At the end of the day, having special invitees to the CWC or having appointed CWC members has weakened the Congress party organisationally.

I hope there will be elections to the CWC soon.

Do you think it is a good decision to have Mallikarjun Kharge, who is 80 years old, as a nominee for the Congress president's post? And here you have the BJP which retires leaders at 75.

I do agree, while most politicians get better with age.

Joe Biden will go for re-election when he will be 82 and Republican leader Donald Trump too will be 80 if he decides to re-contest the American presidential election.

Age is a factor given the fact that we are a younger country as our median age is 28 unlike America whose median age is on the higher side (38).

The Congress seems to be somewhere not recognising that the language or the political vocabulary needs to resonate with the larger masses of India.

With due respect to Mr Kharge, I agree that he has impressive credentials and track record, but India I think needs to hear a different language at this moment.

While Kharge may be fit and willing to work hard etc, it is a question of are we ideologically or are we in terms of narrative understanding what young India needs?

When I say young I am not saying young in the sense of age, but young in the sense of the country. Young in hope, aspirations and changes happening in the country.

I believe Dr Shashi Tharoor by far is a much better choice.

Are the Gandhis really keeping away from this election?

Their stepping back from the presidential elections is a good thing. It is good to get rid of the dynastic accusations tirade against them.

It is also important for the party not to have favourites.

I just believe Kharge is not seen as an unofficial/official candidate of the party because that will send the wrong signal.

As it is the ones who were close to the Gandhi family who have backed off and all these are not a healthy exhibition of independence of the election.

Mr Kharge is saying that he wished there would be consensus. I don't agree with that because there is a lot of talent in the party.

Why should there be a consensus? I believe the party still has to manage the perception well.

What about the G-23 group or Manish Tewari? Why is he out?

He has endorsed the candidature of Mr Kharge. This tells you that the G-23 eventually was a lot of hype and hoopla and lacking in substance.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot showed the Gandhis who is the boss by not stepping down from the chief minister's post.

Not really. He has become the biggest loser in this entire political melodrama.

He had the chance to head the Congress party if he had won.

It was a more prestigious post rather than being the chief minister of a state.

For him to try and kill two birds with one stone boomeranged.

He has destroyed his own personal reputation in politics.

Do you think the Congress will be able to connect with the people of India with a new president in charge?

The Congress party has to realise that if they want to create an inclusive India, then they must have an inclusive Congress.

The party must adapt to the character of India.

The biggest strength of the Congress party was that historically it was the biggest tent. It could include all people from all walks of life; be it religion, caste, gender or anything.

There was no discrimination within the party. No favourites amongst the equals kind of situation.

Therefore, the ability of the Congress party to bridge the inter-generational gap will be a big challenge.

The party is younger, but its leadership is much older today. How do you reconcile the two will be extremely crucial.

Firstly, the party will have to grapple with the reality that India is changed and secondly, the BJP is playing with different rules of the game.

They have destroyed institutions. They are playing with I will take no prisoners kind of attitude.

Both (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and (Home Minister Amit) Shah have completely redefined Indian politics through their saam, dand, bhed politics.

The Congress has to understand that the external environment is very different and internally it has been at the receiving end of the election results. It will have to reconnect with the masses.

It will have a non-Gandhi president for the first time in more than 20 years and it also has to go and work with the alliance partners.

There are big challenges for the Congress and it is not going to be easy.

Hopefully, fingers crossed it is at least taking baby steps forward.

The party must recognise that baby steps may not be enough and to bring about change you need a renewal and renewal usually is bigger, bolder and more painful.

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