The Congress party's amended constitution, that will now allow for a nominated 35-member Congress Working Committee (CWC), is likely to make "accommodating all camps" in the highest decision-making body of the party easier, party sources say. In the plenary session held in late February, the Congress party's steering committee decided that there will not be any elections to the CWC, but the members will be nominated by the party president Mallikarjun Kharge. Additionally, it also said that there will be a fifty per cent reservation in the CWC for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), women, minorities and those under 50 years of age.
The nomination combined with the reservation may make it seem like ticking all the boxes will be a challenge, but the catch lies in the fine print.
General Secretary (Communications) Jairam Ramesh announced at the 85th Plenary Session in Raipur that it was a ‘unanimous’ decision of the steering committee to hold nominations to the CWC, citing the “current political climate” of the country and the fact that nominations pave the way for reservations.
Later, Rajya Sabha MP Randeep Singh Surjewala in a press conference clarified that this is “both a horizontal as well as vertical reservation”. This means that women and those under 50 will have preference within fifty per cent reservation of the four categories of SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities, and in the remaining fifty per cent as well, he explained.
This opens up the scope for multiple permutations and combinations to allow a ‘balance’ of young and old, different castes, as well as an opportunity to accommodate the multiple camps of the party within the CWC.
Leaders Likely To Be Included
The Congress party also brought another amendment stating that there will be permanent membership in the CWC for not just the president of the Congress, but also the chairperson of the Congress Parliamentary party, the Congress’ former prime ministers, the leaders of the Congress party in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as well as former presidents of the Congress party. These will be in addition to the 35 members to be nominated by Kharge.
Sources said that the three Congress CMs are likely to find seating in the CWC member chart—Rajasthan's Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Himachal Pradesh’s Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu.
Despite tall claims of giving a younger appeal to the CWC, members of the Congress’ old guard are likely to be adjusted in it. Sources said Ambika Soni, who is 80-year-old may be included via the women reservation. Then Mukul Wasnik, who is 63 years old and a Dalit leader may also be included in the CWC. Wasnik was a member of the G23, which had demanded elections to the CWC in 2020.
Including some of the G23 members – who are seen as the reformists—in the new CWC will help mitigate the criticism of not opting for an election. It is to this end that Anand Sharma, one of the most vocal members of the group, who was present in the steering committee meeting at the plenary session didn’t object to there being no elections to the CWC, sources said. “Everyone is hoping that with the increased berth size, they can curry enough favor with Kharge or fit in via the reservation to make it to the CWC,” a former CWC member said.
Members of the ‘old guard’ such as Kumari Selja, Siddaramaiah and Tariq Anwar are also likely to be included. While Selja is Dalit, Siddaramaiah an OBC and Anwar a Muslim.
The expanded CWC could also help the party iron out the creases by including those fighting internal tussles in various states. For instance, sources said that 45-year-old Sachin Pilot, who has an OBC background, is also being considered for the CWC. 44-year-old Ajay Kumar Lallu, also from OBC background, is known to be close to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and is likely to be rewarded.
Scope For Chaos
This expansion of the CWC, however, may also lead to the dilution of its importance. "Over the last few years, CWC’s power has already been diminished. That is why there was such a clamor over wanting elections to the CWC, so that some prestige and authority could be restored. But now with 35 people nominated...plus all the permanent seats of former PMs, presidents etc, it is likely to become very chaotic,” a senior party leader said.
Efficacy and authority of the CWC has been a hot-button issue for the last few years, with many within the Congress demanding that CWC membership come with special decision-making powers, that are independent of the ‘high command’ of the party.
However, now, with nomination system reaffirmed, Kharge would have to ensure that the final list includes those close to the Gandhis, as well as those who can fit the other criteria.