Predictable Drama Unfolds at CWC Meet Nitish Names Jitan Manjhi New Bihar CM
Congress’ top decision-making body rejects offers by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to step down in the wake of poll whitewash
The Congress Working Committee, the party’s apex decision-making body, which met for the first time on Monday after the devastating defeat in the recent Lok Sabha elections, ended predictably with members refusing to countenance a party without a member of the NehruGandhi family at the helm.
At the end of a meeting that lasted nearly three hours, CWC passed a unanimous resolution “expressing total faith” in the leadership of the Gandhis and “authorised” Congress President Sonia Gandhi “to take whatever steps necessary in order to revamp the party organisation at all levels”.
Both Sonia Gandhi and her son, vicepresident Rahul Gandhi, offered to resign for the party’s dismal showing. “Both Sonia and Rahul offered to resign but CWC rejected it unanimously,” said Amarinder Singh, member of Parliament from Amritsar. Jitan Ram Manjhi, the SC/ ST welfare minister in the outgoing JD(U) government, will be the new chief minister of Bihar replacing Nitish Kumar, who had quit owning moral responsibility for the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha elections.
Members of CWC, not only declined to accept the resignations of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but also refused any discussion on the matter. “I believe I have not been able to bring about the necessary changes to strengthen the party. Therefore, I take full responsibility for this crushing defeat and I am prepared to relinquish my position,” Sonia told the CWC members. Briefing reporters after the meeting, general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said, “Rahul said the party lacks the kind of accountability that is needed, and that he could make a start by tendering his resignation. He said that probably he could not live up to the expectations the party had from him.” Though never declared as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, at its meeting in January the Congress Working Committee had asked Rahul to lead the party’s campaign in the 2014 elections. The responsibility for the drubbing, the 38-member decisionmaking body resolved, must be shared by “both the government and the party”. Outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also a CWC member, stepped in to take responsibility suggesting that the government’s inability to rein in prices and tackle corruption contributed to the party’s debacle. Singh stressed that little would be achieved by resignations and as- signing blame. “Manmohan Singh said he takes responsibility for the inadequacies of the government. He told the Congress president and vicepresident that their resignation was not the solution to the problems faced by Congress,” Dwivedi said in his press briefing. The CWC resolution pledged to the millions of Congress workers that it will create within the party opportunities and structures that will pave the way for a “thorough revamp of the organisation at all levels”. “Accountability has been talked about. Wait for the reorganisation,” the general secretary said. The resolution also hinted at major changes at all levels of the organisation and in Congress-ruled states. “Corrective measures must be taken at the level of the party and at the level of state governments formed by Congress,” it said. During the discussions, as many as 29 members, including Ajit Jogi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anil Shastri, spoke on the party’s shortcomings. They offered suggestions while carefully sidestepping any mention of Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning and the working of his team, all of which has been criticised by party leaders in private. Leading the introspection, Sonia Gandhi said, “We should also ask ourselves, have we failed, both as government and party, to communicate our achievements? ... It is vital that we ask these questions and more at every level...What we need is a clear-headed and fresh thinking that will help us correct our shortcomings.”
Indicating major changes, she said that “most of all, what we need for our party is to accept that unless we undertake some structural changes, we will not be able to meet the serious challenges we face”.
Some CWC members did raise the issue of inaccessibility of many AICC functionaries and union ministers, which they felt added to the party’s disconnect with the people. Sources said at least two CWC members pointed out that the collective leadership failed to counter BJP’s bid to project “Congress as a party that appeases only Muslims in the name of secularism”. Taking a cue from the party president, the members expressed concern over “neverseen-before polarisation on communal lines” during the elections. “I also believe the message of Congress was lost in the din and dust raised by an aggressive and polarising campaign by our opponents, which was backed by unlimited resources and a hostile media,” Sonia Gandhi said.
The party’s communication strategy faced severe criticism. Sources indicated that several general secretaries offered to step down from their posts giving the party leadership a free hand in the reorganisation efforts.
The role of a “hostile media” also came in for a scrutiny at the meet with most leaders feeling that there was a slant in general reporting in favour of BJP.
UNDER PRESSURE: Rahul and Sonia