Decentralising The Congress
Those who have interacted with Rahul Gandhi, and they include some of my close acquaintances whom I respect highly, say that the Gandhi scion is extremely humble. His personal manners are impeccable. He pays immense respect to seniors. He displays sincere empathy to the underprivileged. However, most of these acquaintances are tightlipped on Rahul’s record and potentials as a politician. Despite having been a Member of Parliament for nearly a decade, he has hardly intervened in any substantial discussion on any serious issue that afflicts the nation. Notwithstanding whatever the supporters of the Gandhi family may say, Rahul still remains an “unknown quantity” in Indian politics.
To my mind, his only memorable intervention in Parliament was in 2009 when he was defending the UPA-I regime in a non-confidence motion against it, following the conclusion of Indo-USA nuclear deal. His intervention was highly emotional; he mentioned then the plight of Kalavati Bandurkar, the Vidarbha farm widow, whom he had visited in the past. All of a sudden, Kalavati became some sort of a celebrity, with many Congress stalwarts and Maharashtra ministers making a beeline for the destitute woman’s decrepit hut and promising her all sorts of help. But does anybody remember Kalavati now? I am sure that Rahul must have come across a news item last year that she is a broken woman today. After her 28-year-old daughter committed suicide last year, she refuses to speak to outsiders. Kalavati, 55, has lost her husband, her daughter and a son-in-law to the unending debt cycle. She now vows to have nothing to do with politicians, all of whom used her as a mascot in decrying the agrarian situation and fetching votes.
Like many well-intentioned leaders, Rahul seems to suffer from a short attention span, not taking things to their logical conclusion. As General Secretary of the Congress party in charge of the Youth Congress, he had deprecated the system of dynastic succession in politics. He, in fact, was humble enough to admit that he had also benefited from the system. But, he had promised to ensure that his Congress party would develop a new culture in which talent and qualification, rather than inheritance, would factor in getting party posts and governmental positions. But ironically, the same Rahul appointed in 2010 Rajiv Satav as the new President of the Indian Youth Congress. A lawyer by training, Satav is the son of Rajni Satav, a former Minister and Women’s Commission chairperson. He got into politics because of his mother’s influence, which even reportedly worked to get him a party ticket and win Assembly election from Kalamnuri constituency in Hingoli district of Maharashtra. In fact, the Congress-led government at the Centre has now ministers who are essentially there primarily because of their family legacies: Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia, GK Vasan, and Sachin Pilot. All these are Congressmen and believed to be among the closest friends of Rahul.
It is against this background that one may ponder over Rahul’s future vision, now that he has been appointed as the Vice President of the Congress party at the just concluded AICC session in Jaipur. Of course, his “elevation” for me was not a news, because the so-called “Number Two” position in the party after his mother does never matter for a Gandhi scion. Ever since his formal entry into politics, every Congress person worth the salt never questioned his claim to the throne of the party and office of Indian Prime Minister. He always enjoyed more clout and importance than the incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And that will always be so, if the present Congress system is anything to go by.
In Congress, all the power is reposed in the hands of the Gandhi family. Whether it is the Prime Minister or Chief Minister or leaders of the Congress Legislature Party in various states or the state Presidents, each of them is “appointed” by Sonia Gandhi as Party President. None of them is “elected” by the party men or legislators at the respective party tiers as is mandatory under the Congress Constitution. As Rahul is now the new symbol of this system, one doubts whether he sincerely means what exactly he said at Jaipur in his “acceptance speech”.
Rahul’s was a wonderful speech. He and his speech writers must have spent a considerable time in preparing it. Take away the emotional elements from it, Rahul’s speech correctly outlined the serious ills afflicting India today. By the way, the country needs a new outlook and vision, which, one contributor to this issue of the paper has presented beautifully in the pages that follow. I cannot say whether Rahul will agree with him, but one thing I strongly concur with Rahul is when he criticises the prevailing system of governance based on over-centralisation of power. He says, “But why are we in this situation? Why is it, I ask you, that our ministries do the work of Panchayats? Why does the Supreme Court handle the load of the lower houses of justice? Why does the Chief Minister need to appoint a teacher? Why are Vice Chancellors chosen by people who are far removed from the education system? No matter what state you look at, no matter which political party you look at—why do a handful of people control the entire political space? Power is grossly centralized in our country. We only empower people at the top of a system. We don’t believe in empowering people all the way to bottom”.
If actually Rahul means the above words he uttered at Jaipur, he should ask his mother why she, not Congress workers below, decides who will be state or district Congress Presidents. Why is it that the Congress legislators are not allowed determining their floor leaders and Chief Minister?
If one goes by the Congress party’s constitution, and I suggest Rahul to read it if he has not, it must rank as one of the most democratic ones that ensure decentralisation of power. Unfortunately, the Congress constitution, and the spirit behind it, has been horribly tampered with over years. In fact, Rahul should be shocked to find that the Congress Constitution does not have a provision for the office of “vice president” that he occupies today. That the post was created twice before—for Arjun Singh by Rajiv Gandhi and Jitendra Prasad by Sitaram Kesari—does not cut much ice. It was unconstitutional then and is unconstitutional now, if one goes by the party provisions.
But then it is not the only instance. Under Article V of the Congress constitution, among the qualifications that a Congress member should have include the provisions, that “He/She is a habitual weaver of certified Khadi”; “He/She abstains from alcoholic drinks and intoxicant drugs”; “He/She undertakes to perform minimum tasks, including manual labour as may be prescribed by the Working Committee”; and “He/She does not own any property in excess of the ceiling laws applicable to him/her.” Does Rahul believe in such criteria for Congress membership?
Similarly, take Article XIII of the Congress Constitution that deals with All India Congress Committee (the session of which was held in Jaipur). Forget about the enshrined provisions that talk of the membership of the AICC based both on election by PCC members and careful selection by the party President, the Congress constitution is very clear, stating, “The AICC shall meet as often as required by the Working Committee, but not less than twice a year, or on a joint requisition addressed to the Working Committee by not less than 20 per cent of the total number of AICC members having full voting rights”. Article XVI on the Plenary Congress Session reads, “A session of the Congress shall ordinarily be held once in three years at the time and place decided upon by the Working Committee or the AICC as the case may be”.
The reality, however, is different. Neither the AICC sessions nor the Plenary sessions are being held in stipulated time, despite the fact that these are party organs that are supposed to have powers to deal with matters and situations that may arise from time to time. It is the AICC that has the power to frame rules, not inconsistent with the party Constitution, for regularising all matters connected with the Congress, and that includes any changes in the Constitution. But what has happened is that all these powers are now delegated to the party high command, which effectively means Delhi’s 10 Janpath (residence of the Gandhis), not even 24 Akbar Road (the Congress headquarters).
The moral of the story is thus clear. Howsoever well-intentioned he may be, Rahul cannot bring about decentralisation of power in the country without first decentralising the Congress party. But can he do that? Your guess is as good as mine, but I wish him all the best.
By Prakash Nanda