A 5-point blueprint for the Congress - Part 2

Sanjay Jha
National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress party

There is a popular aphorism that committees are where people take minutes and waste hours. As the Congress party gears up to face an uphill battle, not necessarily insurmountable as several cynics are insinuating, it will have to keep that sardonic wisdom as Exhibit A in its meeting hall.

My own personal experience of being part of a crucial committee in 2014 was distressing. Initially I was thrilled to be included in this august gathering of political heavyweights as in those days I was still a relative outsider in the Congress party and did not yet know inner party functioning.

I live in Mumbai and therefore had to travel up and down several times for these celebrated ‘meetings’, which often lacked direction, purpose and, worse, a clear outcome.

Many people tell me that I am being extremely naïve if not altogether asinine in expecting a political organisation to function like a dynamic corporate. I disagree.

Time is in short supply and time is money, whether an NGO, multinational corporation, public sector undertaking, a professional, a small shopkeeper or the Grand Old Party. On the contrary, since politics is a never-ending collage of possibilities, decisions need to be quick and one should make sure that every group interaction leads to a forward movement.

After over half a dozen meetings, our prestigious committee just fell apart, no meetings were ever held again and nobody was aware of what had truncated the brief life of the ill-fated team. It seemed de rigueur, no big deal.

It was as if this was standard operating procedure in the AICC manual. I was stunned. And this atrocious happenstance was before the big election of 2014 when the Congress had been virtually written off even before the election dates were announced.

This prologue is necessary to contextualize the next recommendation, especially given the fact that since Rahul Gandhi’s resignation, the Congress seems to be in limbo and, worse, pretty much reconciled to suspended animation.

The party of Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru deserves better. Things need to change. And fast.

2) Reconstitute Congress Working Committee (CWC); make it smaller

The CWC is the distinguished group that is responsible for providing leadership to the party in good times and bad. It has an array of revered Congress stalwarts each possessing a formidable political nous.

I have always maintained that the party is blessed with amazing talent which helped the Congress earn the moniker of being the ‘natural party of governance’. However, at 25, the CWC size is too big and needs a serious trimming.

The CWC should be able to convene at short notice and take critical decisions with alacrity. It has to have the speed of a jaguar. Everywhere I go, anxious Congress supporters ask me: “What are you all doing? Why are you not appointing a new Congress president?” Frankly, I am hard-pressed to dodge that curve ball.

The culture of appointing people to high-profile committees or to any committee to assuage their fragile egos or temporary disgruntlement or to ensure a balanced representation to state, region, caste, gender or religion must be obliterated.

That is old-fogey stuff; the party should imbibe a high-performance culture. The only criteria should be pure merit and long-term potential contribution to strengthen the party and have a direct electoral impact.

Politics is about winning elections because that is the only way its ideology, policies and programmes can be executed and implemented. Or else one is just a paper tiger living in la la land.

While everyone cannot necessarily be an elected member of Parliament as a mandatory requirement (even good people lose elections when the headwinds are rough) to be a CWC member, the CWC must give weightage to those who have triumphed in Lok Sabha elections.

A new approach is required for all party committees (publicity, manifesto, alliances , screening, etc.) right down to state and district levels.

Most have become a huge drag, creating lethargy and lassitude. It has become just a token signature card that is supposed to motivate people. But if that does not translate into electoral and voter impact it is a bad practise and over a period of time leads to further corrosiveness.

The only criterion for being a member of a committee must be pure deliverables. And all committees must be small or of a manageable size.

The ideal CWC size should be 11, with the Congress president nominating 5 members and 6 being elected through the internal party process. The CWC should be a manifestation of a pulse-reader which keeps the Congress president perpetually informed of sensitive issues and provides guidance like a lighthouse.

In short, it should be the 2 a.m. friend for the top person (I repeat, it is a lonely job and an incredibly difficult one). In its current avatar, that is virtually impossible.

Also, the tradition of ‘happy accommodation’ of people just to give them a synthetic halo is meaningless. The ‘Permanent Invitees’ and ‘Select Invitees’, whatever they mean, make the CWC even more unwieldy, torpid and slumberous. They must be promptly disbanded.

Politics quirkily enough is quite like wine; mostly politicians get better as the decades roll by. However, it is important to be in sync with changing demographic trends, social mores, transforming technology, changing aspirations and values-system of an evolving nation.

Based on the current average age of the CWC at 68 years, it is obvious that perhaps it does not mirror a young restless zippy India on the move.