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A Tale of the Master & his Council: The Relation Between Congress President and CWC

The relation between the President of the Congress and the respective working committee (congress working committee), has been one marked by contention, factions and uncertainty since its very foundation.

Image Caption: Indira Gandhi at the AICC meet (29th/May/1976)

The congress party of India has evolved to a great extent, with its traced heirloom associated with the Indian national movement to the present allegory of its downfall. The internal relations of the congress have always provided us with a perception about its functioning, reforms sought after, structure of their vote base and the respective ideology associated with it.

Last year around the month of July, an unprecedented move in the history of Indian National Congress was observed, with 23 senior leaders writing a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi, asking her for “sweeping changes” in the party. The list included five former chief ministers, sitting MPs Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari, members of Congress Working Committee and over a dozen former union ministers with years of political experience. This incident attracted a lot of heat to it with various opinions and beliefs. In either cases of questioning the party leadership or supporting the same, similar phrases like nepotism or ‘ek khandan ka raj…’ followed the discourse.

Six months later, after a 5-hour meeting, interim Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her senior party colleagues, including representatives of the 23 leaders who had sought wide-ranging intra-party reforms through a controversial letter in July, Sonia asked all leaders present at the meeting to put forth their views on organisational matters. Both Sonia and Rahul endorsed the view that measures to strengthen the party have to be taken. Sonia said that a party panel is already in the process of finalizing the schedule for electing the next Congress president. The leaders, including those seeking reform, urged Rahul to withdraw his resignation so that suspense on the leadership issue ends. Rahul did not give any assurance but said he is willing to take up any responsibility given to him by the party.

Pawan Bansal, party general secretary and interim treasurer said, “Detailed discussions were held today on ways to strengthen the party. All members present spoke. Both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said that the party is a big family and everyone has a responsibility towards strengthening it.”

Recently a demand was articulated by Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, his deputy Anand Sharma, and former finance minister P Chidambaram, who wasn’t a signatory to the original letter but supported elections to the CEC (Central Election Committee) of the Congress party. They said CEC members should be chosen by the same electoral college that takes part in the election of the president. While the letter writers want elections at all levels and the CEC is one such forum, a former CWC member told HT that the CEC’s membership carried the kind of prestige that even the CWC, the party’s top decision-making body, didn’t have. Harmless though it may seem, but the polls for the Central Election Committee of the congress can emerge as a bone of contention for the party framework and leadership.

The Prehistoric Roots

The Congress party and its core contentions are not a recent phenomenon but a trend dating to the past. In the year 1939, National Leader Subhash Chandra Bose, also known as Netaji, was re-elected as the President of the Indian National Congress. Bose’s opponent Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya couldn’t fetch enough votes for himself. Since Dr. Sitaramayya was strongly supported by Gandhi, so much so that he stopped him from withdrawing his candidature, it is seen as a personal failure of Gandhi. Gandhi urged Bose to assume the duties of the President and form his working committee for running Congress. However, it seemed difficult as reports suggested that Subhash Chandra’s re-election was not sitting well with some INC workers, especially those supporting Gandhi. The working committee was dominated by Gandhi supporters, who were not happy with the presence and ways of Bose. A power-play occurred in the Congress Working Committee, as a result in April 1939, Bose stepped down and his position was filled by Dr Rajendra Prasad who went on to become the first president of independent India. In May 1939, Bose formed the Forward Block within Congress and followed a path different from the Gandhian ideology.

Image Caption: Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose

Image Credits: The Statesman

Since the Constitution of INC does not provide for the removal of the president, power-play may occur in the Congress Working Committee in the near future. At present, the Indian National Congress’ future seems uncertain and blurry. Only time will tell the fate of INC.

The Post Independence Rhetoric

Even after the independence this trend did find its way into the new framework of Congress as a national party. The pioneering social scientist, Partha Chatterjee, extensively wrote about the relationship between the government wing and the party wing of the congress. In his book, State and Politics in India, he explains the innumerable contrasting viewpoints within the party itself on this respective topic; further delineating the derivation of power and the formations of various sects in the party. The issue of the relationship between the Party and the government wings, remained at the centre of hullabaloo within the Congress. Whether it be the sects of conservatives and socialists during the early independence era of the party or notable factions during Indira Gandhi’s time; congress has continuously faced a problem regarding the continuity of the same question: What is the relationship between its government wing and the party wing?

When Nehru became the Prime Minister of the interim government, J.B Kriplani was appointed as the Congress president. But soon after, both immediately ran into serious disagreements regarding the ministerial wing over the issue of relationship between the party and government. After the CWC talks, Kriplani resigned and left congress. He was later succeeded by the right-wing leader, Purushottamdas Tandon, which once again ended in a dispute. But now in 1951, Nehru resigned from the working committee. When D.N Dhebar was elected as the congress president in the year 1954, he said, “It is a mistake to consider that there is a dual leadership in the nation… There is only one leader today and that is Pandit Nehru. Whether he carries the mantle of the Presidentship or not, ultimately, the whole nation looks to him for support and guidance.” Another notable rift and contention between the congress party was seen during the time of Indira Gandhi, where ultimately the supporters of Indira formed the Congress Requisitionists and the senior leaders of the syndicate group formed the Congress Organisation.

Image Credits: Times now

The Iron ‘Mother-India’

In 1977, Indira Gandhi resigned from the Congress Working Committee. In a letter to the Congress president, K. Brahmananda Reddy, she said that she would resign from the CWC, the supreme body of the Congress, and would now work as an ordinary member of the party. Reddy refused to disclose the contents of Mrs Gandhi’s letter, which was hand delivered to the Congress president by F.M. Khan, an MP and a confidant of Karnataka chief minister, Devraj Urs.

In her letter, the former prime minister wrote, "There are moments in an individual’s life, when the inexorable logic of events leaves no option than the one which may appear extreme. For some weeks, I have had the feeling that one such moment has arrived in my life. Since childhood, I have been brought up in an