New Delhi: The Congress will have an elected president by June 2021 “at any cost”, its general secretary K.C. Venugopal announced Friday, minutes after the conclusion of a crucial Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting to discuss the schedule for organisational elections.
“The Central Election Authority has already given a schedule of conducting the election in May. But all the CWC members unanimously requested president (interim chief Sonia Gandhi) that the state assembly elections should not interfere with the election of party president, so there will be a little rescheduling,” Venugopal said at a joint press conference with the Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
The CEA was a five-member body formed by Sonia Gandhi in September, headed by Madhusudan Mistry, tasked with conducting internal elections in the Congress.
“We will be preparing for the five state elections around that time, so we are rescheduling… by the end of June, the election for party president will take place,” Surjewala added.
However, there is still no clarity about when the polls for membership to the CWC will be held — a major demand voiced by 23 senior leaders in their letter to Sonia Gandhi last year. Asked about this, Venugopal said: “As per our constitution, there is some clarity needed whether CWC and president (elections) can be together, or CWC can be elected after the presidential elections. The usual practice is that first Congress president’s election takes place, and then the CWC election. We need to look at the constitution again and gain clarity.”
But he made it clear this did not mean CWC elections would not be held.
Gehlot, Anand Sharma war of words over CWC polls
At the preceding meeting of Congress’ top decision-making body, multiple leaders locked horns over the demand for a CWC election.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha and one of the writers of the letter last August, is learnt to have turned up the heat on the Congress leadership, reiterating the demand to hold CWC polls as well as those to the party’s Central Election Committee (CEC).
Anand Sharma, another Rajya Sabha member among the letter-writers, agreed with Azad.
However, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot took on the two leaders, saying all the members who hold a post in the party today aren’t elected; that the top leadership chose them.
“All of us here have been CMs, union ministers as well as CWC members, not on the basis of any polls, but because the party leadership chose us to hold those roles. Now suddenly, everyone is talking about holding an election,” a source at the meeting quoted Gehlot as saying.
Sharma did not take Gehlot’s attack lying down, and responded aggressively, saying he is “hurt by the disrespect”.
“We have never said anything against Rahul ji or Sonia ji, but things are said about us all the time. I am hurt by this disrespect,” Sharma said, according to the source.
At this point, however, veteran leader Ambika Soni intervened, saying no one is disrespecting them. “He (Gehlot) did not take any names, so please don’t take this personally,” Soni is learnt to have said.
Towards the end of the meeting, the source said Rahul Gandhi told both Gehlot and Sharma that he respects and understands their viewpoints.
“I understand where both these leaders are coming from. And I respect their viewpoints. I am also of the opinion that the presidential elections should be held soon, so that this subject can end once and for all. This way, we can focus all our energies on the farmers’ agitation and standing by the protests,” Rahul was quoted as saying by the source.
State polls preparations
The CWC meeting, which lasted over three hours, saw the persons in-charge of the five states slated to go to the polls in 2021 giving presentations about the election preparations.
Dinesh Gundu Rao, the Tamil Nadu in-charge, is learnt to have said Gandhi was the reason the Congress performed “so well” in the state in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The UPA, led in the state by the DMK and also including Left parties, the Indian Union Muslim League and the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), won 38 of the 39 seats, with the Congress triumphing in eight out of nine seats it contested.
So, Rao requested Rahul Gandhi to do more rallies and tours in Tamil Nadu, ahead of the state polls in April-May.
Three resolutions — farmers, vaccines, Arnab Goswami
The CWC also passed three resolutions — pertaining to the farmers’ agitation outside New Delhi, the Covid-19 vaccination drive, and the controversy surrounding Arnab Goswami’s leaked WhatsApp chats.
The Congress said it stands by the farmers and demanded that the Narendra Modi government repeal the three new farm laws.
On the vaccination drive, the Congress condemned “profiteering” being done in the open market, and demanded that the marginalised sections of the society be given the vaccine for free.
“The CWC particularly underlines the fact that India’s under-privileged, disadvantaged and marginalised sections, particularly the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Other Backward Classes and poor, need to be administered the vaccine free of charge and within a time-bound period,” the resolution read.
On the Arnab Goswami controversy, the party expressed concerns about the alleged leak of information about the Balakot airstrike, and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) inquiry in the matter.
“The CWC demands a time-bound investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the breach of national security, violations of the Official Secrets Act, and the role of the persons involved,” the third resolution read.