New Delhi: The demand for transparency in elections for the post of Congress president is gaining ground, with party MP from Assam, Pradyut Bordoloi, becoming the latest member to call for electoral rolls to be made public.
Bordoloi Thursday wrote to Madhusudan Mistry, head of the Congress’ Central Election Authority (CEA), on the issue. The Nowgong representative is the fourth Congress MP — after Manish Tewari, Karti Chidambaram and Shashi Tharoor — to have made the demand.
The demand was first made by senior party leader Anand Sharma at a meeting of the Congress working committee last month.
Sonia Gandhi has been interim president of the Indian National Congress (INC) since 2019, ever since Rahul Gandhi — who had been elected unopposed in 2017 — resigned, following the party’s poor performance in the last Lok Sabha elections.
The party is now set to hold its next presidential polls on 17 October, and the demand for electoral rolls to be made public comes three weeks before filing of nominations begins on 24 September.
In a tweet Wednesday, Tewari argued that if a candidate must be backed by 10 electors to file their nomination — according to the Congress constitution — the lack of a public electoral roll puts them at risk of being disqualified if the CEA rules that the nominators are not bonafide electors.
1/1 With great respect @MD_Mistry ji How can there be a fair & free election without a publicly available electoral roll ? Essence of a fair & free process is names & addresses of electors must be published on @INCIndia website in a transparent manner. https://t.co/7lRqSwqseV
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) August 31, 2022
In response to these demands, Mistry and the party leadership asked the concerned leaders earlier this week to go to each state unit, or Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), of the party, and collect the electoral rolls from them.
Tewari and others have hit back, saying that it is a huge task for any potential candidate to go to 28 PCCs and 9 union territorial units of the party to verify electoral rolls.
ThePrint looks at the process of electing Congress presidents and the reason behind the current controversy over electoral rolls.
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How is the Congress president elected
According to Article XVIII of the Congress constitution, INC delegates votes for the party president.
The constitution defines “all members of the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCC)” as INC delegates.
There are six ways in which one can become a PCC member, according to the party constitution.
Firstly, every Block Congress Committee (BCC) elects a delegate to the PCC through a system of secret ballot. This delegate becomes a member of the PCC.
Other PCC members include PCC presidents who have completed a full term of 365 days and have continued to be members of the party, presidents of the District Congress Committees (DCCs) — though such members are not eligible to be secretary or president of their respective PCCs — All India Congress Committee (AICC) members who reside in the state, members elected by the Congress’ legislative party (CLP) in all states (the number of such members can’t be more than 5 per cent, or 15 members, of the total membership of any PCC), and members who the PCC executive select from “special elements” or special categories, not adequately represented in the PCC.
These PCC members — or INC delegates — elect the Congress president from among the nominated candidates.
Any 10 delegates may jointly propose the name of any other delegate for the post of Congress president. The returning officer for the election — who is the president of the CEA — then sends the list of nominated delegates to each state unit of the party, or PCC, after waiting for seven days to allow nominated candidates to withdraw their nominations.
If there’s just one candidate left after the date of withdrawal, then that delegate is automatically elected as president.
If not, each INC delegate votes for their preferred candidate. If there are just two candidates, then the delegates select one. If there are more than two candidates, then the delegates indicate their preference for at least two of the total candidates.
The process of elections, if there is more than one candidate, takes place at the PCC headquarters of each state.
The counting of votes is done following the principle of single transferable vote, and the candidate with highest votes is declared party president.
Congress presidential polls so far
In the past 50-odd years, Congress presidential elections have been held in the true sense only twice.
The last time a presidential election with more than one candidate had been conducted was in 2000 when Sonia Gandhi faced off against Jitin Prasada. Gandhi won that election with a massive 7,448 votes against Prasada’s 94.
Before that, an election which saw more than one candidate in the fray was in 1997, when Sitaram Kesri defeated heavyweights Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot. While Kesri secured 6,224 votes, Pawar secured 882 and Pilot had received 354 votes.
Sonia Gandhi was appointed president unopposed in 1998 and thereafter, since 2000, there has been no challenger to the Gandhi family when it came to the party’s presidency.
Sonia remained president of the party till 2017, when her son and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was elected president unopposed, with all PCCs passing a resolution in his favour even before he had filed his nomination.
When Rahul resigned, Sonia was appointed the interim president by the Congress Working Committee (CWC).
Why the demand for electoral rolls to be made public
According to the Congress constitution, organisational elections in the party are to be held every five years — right from the block level to the district level, for the PCCs and the AICC.
Of the PCC members who form the electoral college for the presidential polls, a large section is elected by the BCCs members.
However, organisational elections — including those for the BCCs and by BCC members for the PCC — have not been held in the Congress since 2017, which means the PCC members who come as BCC delegates, a big part of electoral college for the presidential polls, have been nominated through discussion and consensus and not elected by due process.
According to AICC sources, the electoral college this time has about 9,000 PCC members. In the absence of an electoral process, it is difficult for any aspiring presidential candidate to know who exactly from each BCC has been nominated as a PCC member and therefore has become an elector.
Tewari and others contend that if this list is not made public, then a candidate will not know who they can get nominated by.
On the other hand, the Congress has said that it will not make the list public and those interested in knowing who forms the electoral college will have to go to each PCC and get the names individually.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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