Eight months after becoming the Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge is still functioning without a Congress Working Committee (CWC). Kharge hasn’t made many major changes to the All India Congress Committee (AICC) structure either. Kharge’s ‘team’ so far has been the steering committee which was formed after his election as a temporary or ad-hoc arrangement meant to serve until the CWC’s eventual formation.
On Monday, 26 June, Kharge completed eight months in office, and in the time period the Congress has won two major elections: Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. Yet the lack of a CWC has led to growing murmurs of disgruntlement among Congress leaders, The Quint has learnt. This may seem especially strange given that there is to be no cumbersome election process involved in the making of this CWC as he is authorised to nominate whosoever he wishes, as per the resolution passed by the party earlier this year. But that freedom has instead led to many challenges arising.
The Complications Which Have Caused The Delay
Kharge was officially elected as the President on 26 October 2022, but the plenary session didn’t take place until February 2023, because of a number of delays. For one, the party didn’t want to take attention away from the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Congress also wanted to wait till after the Winter and Budget sessions of Parliament were over.
Then in February, the Congress’ steering committee, in its meeting, concluded that Kharge be given the authority to nominate a CWC of his liking, and do away with the elections. While on the surface this may have seemed like providing the president a certain freedom and an easy opportunity, it actually complicated things further.
This is because in the 2-day Raipur plenary session, which took place immediately after the Steering Committee’s meet, it was decided that 50 per cent of all posts as well as the CWC would be reserved for those under 50 years of age and for OBCs, Dalits, tribals, minorities, women.
Moreover, the plenary meet ended with the Congress constitution being amended to increase the strength of the CWC from 25 to 35 members.
These changes meant that Kharge had to be very careful about adhering to the new norms and meeting all the requirements in his selection of the CWC.
This has also led to very serious attempts at lobbying for a berth not just in the CWC but also for different AICC posts, party sources told The Quint.
Post-holders carry immense power in being able to maneuver internal party politics, from deciding party’s take on issues of national relevance to election management, many things come under the purview of office-bearers.
New Committees, Elevation of Priyanka Gandhi, Other Developments in Pipeline
Sources close to Kharge said that several issues led to the delay, but the process will be expedited now. “First, the plenary session couldn’t be held till February because of parliament session and Bharat Jodo Yatra. Then, right after the plenary session, the Karnataka election dates were announced and the party found it fit to focus all energies on that,” a source close to Kharge told The Quint.
However, in the last few weeks, certain changes have been made to the AICC posts, signaling that more are on the way. New Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chiefs have been appointed in Gujarat and Tripura, and a fresh set of secretaries have been appointed in Maharashtra. Sources said more such changes are likely imminently.
Besides the CWC and AICC posts, the Udaipur chintan shivir last year had also passed a resolution stating that two new committees would be formed: the election management department and the public feedback department. Neither of these have been formed yet.
Sources told The Quint that the election management department is likely to be announced soon, with strategist Sunil Kanugolu being given a prominent role. Kanugolu played an important role in the Karnataka elections, and is now working on Telangana and Madhya Pradesh election strategies.
There is also speculation surrounding another major development within the party, that of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra being made the Vice President along with K.C. Venugopal, who is presently the General Secretary (Organisation).
Priyanka Gandhi resigned as the General Secretary of Uttar Pradesh last year, but the party will need to find a replacement for Venugopal’s role—a very important one—if they do go ahead with this plan. “There are talks of having a North zone VP and a South zone VP, that way both will have their respective states to focus on, but it’s still only in discussion stage,” a Congress leader said.
The Importance of Forming a CWC for Kharge
While Kharge has had a hands-on approach in election management since becoming president, in internal party matters and opposition dealing, the leader has mostly seen as accompanying Rahul Gandhi, who doesn’t hold any official post. For instance, the recent Patna opposition meet was supposed to be held originally on 12 June. However, since Gandhi was abroad at the time, it was pushed to 23 June, to ensure he is present at the meet.
Amid all this, it is imperative for Kharge to form his own team and make changes in the AICC and form the CWC to not look like a weak president, especially since even before the election he was seen as the favorite of the Gandhi family.