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Team Sonia vs Team Rahul: Does Congress Constitution Remain Relevant Only on Paper?

File photo of Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi. (Reuters)

File photo of Sonia Gandhi with Rahul Gandhi. (Reuters)

The party has frequently accused the BJP of "flouting constitutional norms". But now, it itself is vulnerable to this charge. There are grey areas in the party constitution which helps it interpret the rules the way it wants to.

Is Sonia Gandhi set for another extension? Destiny had a hand in her return as Congress interim president last year, much like her debut in politics. She entered politics, to use her words, when she saw the party built by Indira and Rajiv Gandhi slide into disarray. She ended up becoming the longest-serving party president and a successful one too as she got the UPA into power twice.

When Rahul Gandhi resigned after the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results, it was destiny once again that brought her back to take over from her son as interim president. The departure of Rahul was bitter. In his resignation letter, he wrote, "I personally fought the Prime Minister, the RSS and the institutions they have captured with all my being. I fought because I love India. And I fought to defend the ideals India was built upon. At times, I stood completely alone and am extremely proud of it." It was clear that he was upset with many in his party for not backing him convincingly on the Rafale issue.

Sonia was elected interim president under Article 18(h) of the Congress constitution, which says, "In the event of any emergency by reason of any cause such as the death or resignation of the President elected as above, the senior most General Secretary will discharge the routine functions of the President until the Working Committee appoints a provisional President pending the election of a regular President by the AICC. (i) The President shall preside over the Session of the Congress held after his election and during his term of Office and he shall exercise all the powers of the Working Committee when it is not in session."

But here is the thing. As per the same constitution and article 13(B)d, "The AICC shall meet as often as required by the Working Committee, but at least once a year, or on a joint requisition addressed to the Working Committee by not less than 20% of the total number of AICC members having full voting rights." The last plenary session of the Congress or the AICC was held in March 2018 in New Delhi when Rahul Gandhi was president.

As per this constitution, there should have been one, but none have been held or planned so far. Party sources say the plan to decide on a full-time president had to be postponed because of Covid-19. Many in the party, like Shashi Tharoor, have, in fact, been pushing for an election to the top job and also that Rahul Gandhi must now take charge.

But this is where the problem begins. Rahul, so far, remains reluctant. His grudge against many seniors continues and this manifested in a recent meeting with Sonia when Rahul's protege Rajeev Satav made the point that some seniors and ministers were responsible for the downfall of the Congress in 2019. He had to issue a clarification later.

Its clear that if Rahul Gandhi decides to come back, it will be completely on his own terms and there is little chance he would want to accommodate any of Sonia's people.

It's an issue which may take time to sort out. What worries some seniors in the party is the fact that the constitution of the AICC is not being followed on this.

The constitution has no mention of an 'interim president'. However, it allows a temporary appointment in case of an emergency like death or sudden resignation. But it's clear that the constitution mentions the need for an AICC session to be called once a year. This too hasn't happened. What's worse according to veterans is that constant changes in the constitution make it obvious that there is an attempt to give unbridled power to the Congress president.

One of the miscellaneous provisions is, "In the case of any difficulty in implementing any of the provisions made in the Constitution, the Congress President shall have the authority to issue instructions and to frame necessary rules to overcome the difficulty."

This makes the president supreme, who may or may not even follow the resolutions and decisions of the Congress Working Committee. The other worry is that often decisions are taken by a handful and few matters of urgent importance are referred to the CWC. Article 19 of the Congress constitution says, "The Working Committee shall be the highest executive authority of the Congress and shall have the power to carry out the policies and programmes laid down by the Congress and by the AICC and shall be responsible to the AICC. It shall be the final authority in all matters regarding interpretation and application of the provisions of the Constitution."

As a member of the CWC tells News18.com, "Now the CWC is reduced to passing resolutions on Covid, china or obituaries. There was a time when the CWC would have heated discussions, decide the party line, even at times deviating from what the president wanted. But now, a powerful coterie outside the CWC decides."

In all the recent crises faced by the Congress, like in Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan, the matters weren't discussed by calling special CWC meetings. While in the end there are observers appointed or a small group firefights, when there is a trend, and the CWC has a variety of leaders both with experience and versatility, it's expected that such critical maters would be discussed. The relevance of the CWC, which has been made sacrosanct in the party constitution, has been compromised over time.

The Congress has hit out at the BJP repeatedly for "flouting constitutional norms". But now, it itself is vulnerable to this charge. There are grey areas in the party constitution which helps it interpret the rules the way it wants to.

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