Age is not a bar in the grand old party. If BJP had floated the idea of ‘Margdarshak Mandal’, an advisory body for veterans, Congress has decided to retain most old-war horses in the party’s highest policy making body itself. Thus, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now 90, and 81-year-old Lal Thanhawla, a former Mizoram Chief Minister, are included in the newly constituted 39-member Congress Working Committee (CWC). So is 82-year-old A K Antony, a trusted lieutenant of Sonia Gandhi. Even AICC president Malikarjun Kharge is also 81.
Even the G-23 rebellion is partly forgotten. From the G-23 club, prominent faces like Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kapil Sibal are already out of the Congress. So AICC chief Kharge brought in Veerappa Moily and Manish Tewari (both G-23 members) as permanent invitees into the CWC. Three others — Shashi Tharoor, Anand Sharma and Mukul Wasnik got full membership. Kharge’s intent could be to give a message that the ‘new Congress culture’ does not mind mere rebellion! The loyalists who also find berths in the CWC are Adhir Ranjan Choudhary, Ambika Soni, Meira Kumar, Digvijaya Singh and P Chidambaram.
Sachin Pilot’s entry into the CWC is a crucial move both from national point of view and also ensuing Rajasthan elections. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is the newsmaker of the day as his name was dropped from the CWC. In October 2022, he was almost ‘sure’ as AICC president provided he resigned as Chief Minister of Rajasthan. This could be surprising but it is clear the Rajasthan chief minister has been shown the door from CWC. A former political advisor to Rahul Gandhi as Congress general secretary in-charge ‘organisation’, Gehlot has to remain content with being CM till the polls.
Of course, Gehlot may sweat it out to win it again; but what is the guarantee he would not get another round of raw deal. For Gehlot’s rival Sachin Pilot, after a series of cold shoulder treatment and repeated assurances that his concerns will be looked after, he has been now included in the CWC. If Congress loses out Rajasthan or if Sachin Pilot cannot become Chief Minister, he could be preferred as AICC general secretary in-charge organisation especially during the 2024 polls. Pilot being comfortable in Hindi will be a major factor and moreover in the 2018 assembly polls, he played a major role in ensuring the party’s return to power.
Down south, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah too has been dropped. Of course, along with D K Shivakumar, he was the architect of the Congress party’s victory in the recent Karnataka assembly elections. Senior Congress leader from Kerala, Ramesh Chennithala has to be content with being a permanent invitee in the reconstituted CWC. Chennithala stayed away from the media but his sign of protest is likely to surface. With the BJP more than keen to enlist disgruntled Congressmen for its fledgling Kerala unit, Chennithala could be a man to watch.