Debating India

CONGRESS

Saying ’no’ to nominations

Saturday 25 June 2005

For the Congress, intense factional rivalry and unquestioned loyalty to the high command are two sides of the same coin. Second-rung leaders and regional chieftains who head competing factions pretend to sink their differences the moment the high command, which is for all practical purposes the president of the All India Congress Committee, intervenes in the manner of a deus ex machina. In most cases, faction leaders submit to the decision of the high command. The rationalisation of such fatalism seems to be that since the Central leadership is likely to distribute different favours to different factions on different occasions, matters within the organisation will even out over a period. However, this `lose-now, gain-later’ system of favour-distribution does not seem to work in Kerala. The informal directive of the AICC asking the State leadership to authorise party president Sonia Gandhi to nominate the new president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee triggered disaffection in some quarters, although characteristically the dissenters chose not to come out in the open. Congress leaders in the State have no quarrel with Ms. Gandhi, who after all has shown a rare disinclination to take power even when it was thrust on her in near-hysterical fashion, and also a liberal approach to party building and organisation. However, some of the faction leaders favoured a `consensus’ approach to the selection of the KPCC president, with the codeword signifying political bargaining. After the split that saw the group led by K. Karunakaran forming the National Congress (Indira), there is pressure to accommodate his former loyalists who have chosen not to leave the party.

Under the circumstances the high command felt it had no alternative but to nominate the KPCC president and it chose Ramesh Chennithala, a Rajiv Gandhi confidant who has kept his distance from the two major factions. But the distribution of the posts of the District Congress Committee presidents among the different groups will have to wait until Mr. Chennithala finds his feet. While the choice of State unit chief was left to Ms. Gandhi, the decision was apparently taken after consulting the leaders of different factions and middle-level functionaries. Such an approach may not be very different from the `consensus’ method favoured by many in the State leadership. But the problem is that the practice of nomination to crucial party posts runs counter to the democratic principle of continuous organisational renewal through free choice. Whether the Pradesh Congress Committee chiefs are chosen by the high command on the basis of consultation or `consensus’, the truth is that the Congress seems congenitally incapable of electing its leaders at various levels on the basis of free choice. What is clear is that prolonged failure to democratise the organisation perpetuates both factionalism and the cult of personality, even if the present party supremo seems temperamentally uncomfortable with the practice.

See online : The Hindu

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