At 85th Plenary Session held in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur , the grand old party said that it was ready to work for pre-poll alliances for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The Plenary also approved changes to the party constitution to pave the way for organizational reforms, writes Amit Agnihotri
The Congress set the tone for the 2024 national elections by saying it was ready to work with like-minded parties to defeat the BJP and reforming the organization to prepare for future challenges, during its 85th Plenary Session held in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur from February 24 to 26.
The Plenary, which came weeks after Rahul Gandhi’s successful Bharat Jodo Yatra, took the message of unity against hatred and the need to protect the Constitution ahead. The mega conclave, based on the theme “Hath se hath jodo” was an extension of the nation-wide yatra, which was against BJP’s alleged divisive politics. Accordingly, the Raipur conclave gave a call to the workers to strengthen the party, keep raising people’s issues and defeat the ruling party unitedly.
The Plenary approved changes to the party constitution to pave the way for organizational reforms and articulated the party’s stand on economic, political and foreign policy challenges before the country.
In a significant move, the party decided not to hold elections for the Congress Working Committee and instead authorized party chief Mallikarjun Kharge to nominate the members.
However, the party decided to increase the number of seats in the CWC from 23 to 35 and approved a proposal giving permanent membership to former party chiefs, ex-prime ministers, and party leaders in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The party also passed a proposal to reserve 50 percent seats in the CWC for SC, ST, women, minorities and OBCs and said that 50 percent of its members will be under 50 years of age. Across the states, the party also revised the party structure at the block level where new mandal panels will be set up.
In a way, the Plenary was a bigger version of the Chintan Shivir the Congress had held in May 2022 in Udaipur, Rajasthan to prepare a roadmap for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. While the Chintan Shivir had around 400 leaders, the Plenary was attended by around 15,000 party workers from across the country.
The Udaipur Declaration, adopted at the end of the Chintan Shivir, had stipulated some far-reaching changes in the organization, which were approved during the Raipur conclave, which also passed key political and economic resolutions ahead of the 2024 national elections. The grand old party also passed resolutions related to international affairs, social justice and empowerment, farmers and agriculture and youth, education and employment during the mega conclave.
The economic resolution mentioned the Congress would reset the economic policies to lift people out of poverty like it did during the UPA government, focus on social welfare, protect the weaker sections, create jobs, and pursue a mixed economy in which the public and the private sector would both prosper.
Though the party discussed assembly elections like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana that will take place in 2023, the most important issue was to go in for pre-poll alliances for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Both Kharge and the party’s political resolution made this point clear.
The Congress was upbeat that Rahul’s five month-long yatra saw participation from several opposition parties, who were also together with the Congress in demanding a JPC probe into the Adani-Hindenburg issue during the Parliament’s Budget Session. “The yatra was a turning point in Indian politics and showed that the Congress will never compromise with the BJP. No opposition unity is possible without a strong Congress,” said veteran Jairam Ramesh.
Already, the grand old party has pre-poll alliances in states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Jharkhand and some northeastern states. The Congress was ready to play an opposition anchor role, senior leader K.C. Venugopal said.
One of the key highlights of the Plenary was the endorsement of Mallikarjun Kharge, who was elected as the new Congress president last year. While the 9,000 PCC delegates had voted for the presidential polls, the new 1,338 AICC members endorsed Kharge’s election to the top party post as mandated by the party constitution.
However, the party could not take forward the proposal to hold CWC elections. When Kharge was campaigning for the post of Congress president last year, he had promised to hold the CWC elections.
The CWC takes all the important decisions but members of the top body have not been elected over the past two decades as former party chief Sonia Gandhi resorted to the practice of nominating the members since she took charge in 1998.
When Kharge took charge as party chief on October 26, 2022, he dissolved the CWC and replaced it with a Steering Committee to oversee the day-to-day functioning of the party. Most CWC members had made it to the Steering Committee.
Since then, there has been much speculation in the grand old party whether the new party president would opt for elections to the powerful CWC or not as conducting the polls would have sent a positive signal among the rank and file of the Congress.
The Steering Committee debated the issue and finally decided to authorize Kharge to nominate the CWC members. The reason cited by the party was that as the main opposition party, the Congress faced many political challenges.
Also, as the party was making changes to the CWC to make it more inclusive the polls were not needed at the moment. Interestingly, the Gandhis, including Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka were not present in the Steering Committee meeting.
In the previous Plenary held in 2018, the party had endorsed the election of Rahul Gandhi as Congress chief in December 2017. Then too, the party had then passed a one-line resolution authorizing the new party chief to appoint the CWC members.
In fact, it was Rahul who had insisted that proper elections for the Congress president be held in the party and that a non-Gandhi should take charge of the organization.
To prepare for the Plenary, the party recently finalised the list of 1,338 AICC delegates and 487 co-opted members, who were selected by the respective state units from amongst the 9,000 PCC delegates. As per norms, one AICC delegate was selected for every 8 PCC members. The AICC members would have voted in the CWC polls, if the party had so decided .
During the Plenary, special focus was on the speeches of former party chiefs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi besides sitting president Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who gave direction to the workers.
“I had the honour of taking office as President for the first time in 1998. Over these twenty-five years, our party has seen times of high achievement as well as deep disappointment. The support, goodwill and understanding of each one of you and all the Congress party workers throughout the country has given us all strength. Our victories in 2004 and 2009, along with the able leadership of Dr Manmohan Singh ji, gave me personal satisfaction, but what gratifies me most is that my innings could conclude with the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” said Sonia Gandhi, who led the party for 25 years.
“In many ways, the situation today reminds me of the time when I first entered politics. Then, as now, we faced a difficult struggle ahead. At this crucial time, each one of us bears a special responsibility towards our party and towards our country. The Congress is not just a political party. We are the vehicle through which the people of India fight for liberty, equality, fraternity and justice for all. We reflect the voices of people of all states, religions, languages, castes and genders. We work to uphold dignity and fulfil the dreams of each and every Indian,” she said.
Rahul slammed the PM over his alleged links with businessman Gautam Adani saying any one critical of the company was termed a traitor. He even compared the group to the East India Company and said that the Congress was now fighting an ideological battle with the BJP.
Priyanka appreciated the role of party workers and urged the like-minded parties to sink their differences for opposition unity against the BJP in 2024.