Unable to shake off old shackles, new Congress leadership faces challenging times ahead of 2019 elections

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New Delhi:

True to his promise and in tune with the times, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has inducted a few promising youngsters in the Congress Working Committee (CWC), but he has not been able to convincingly shake off the stranglehold of the oldies in the party’s highest decision-making body.

The 51-member CWC with 23 core group members, 18 permanent invitees and 10 special invitees has an average age of 68 which may only be a minor improvement over the average age of the preceding CWC which was dissolved on February 16 after Rahul took over the mantle from Sonia Gandhi.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that the young blood that has now found a place would lend a degree of much-needed freshness of approach and infusion of new ideas if it is allowed to blossom. It is the initiative that they are or are not allowed to exercise that would determine whether the change is to the party’s overall benefit at a crucial time in the party’s history.

Among the new leaders, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Lok Sabha MP Deepender Hooda, Haryana leader Kuldeep Bishnoi and Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Arun Yadav may be deemed to be notable new entrants. But alongside them will sit the likes of ‘Old Guard’ like Motilal Vora, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad and AK Antony with their status quasit attitude and manipulative demeanour. 

No tears would be shed for veterans like Digvijaya Singh, CP Joshi, Janardan Dwivedi, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Oscar Fernandes, Mohan Prakash, Dr Karan Singh, BK Hariprasad, M Veerappa Moily and Mohsina Kidwai who had clearly outlived their usefulness and needed to be shown the door. 

What could be the key, however, is whether Rahul Gandhi would rise to the challenge in leading the team in a worthy way and get the best out of them. A mediocre team that is poorly led can well be a disaster but clear-headed and dynamic leadership can make a vital difference. Therein lies the challenge for Rahul that could make or unmake the party.

Strangely, none of the three Congress chief ministers find place in the new CWC. Punjab’s Captain Amarinder Singh who can be credited with a degree of dynamism and is known to have a no-nonsense approach is a glaring omission.

That Amarinder had ensured that the party veterans and the Sonia-Rahul duo did not campaign in Punjab in the run-up to the Assembly elections there must have been cause enough to exclude him under the pretext that it was a convention to keep out chief ministers from the CWC.

Another omission is that of Rajesh Pilot who is giving the BJP a run for its money in Rajasthan which is slated to go to polls later this year. The CWC does have politicians in charge of states such as Jitendra Singh (Odisha), RPN Singh (Jharkhand), Rajeev Satav (Gujarat), Shaktisinh Gohil (Bihar) and Gaurav Gogoi (West Bengal). Randeep Singh Surjewala, in-charge of the communication department, stays on as a permanent invitee.

One of the criticisms of Rahul’s new CWC is that the new crop is largely of dynasts. But it is difficult to dispute that most of them are leaders in their own right though they got the initial push due to their being the offspring of established leaders. It is, however, unfair to hold this against them.

If this criticism is held against Rahul Gandhi it makes better sense because the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family has shown doubtful merit as the Congress party leader but was catapulted to the position artificially by dint of his ancestry.

With the 2019 general elections breathing down their neck, these are challenging times for the beleaguered party and its new leadership.

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