The Congress top brass is actively considering a radical idea to bring new faces into leadership levels. Sources said the party is seriously thinking of imposing an age-ceiling for leaders to hold positions in the organisation at all levels and for contesting elections besides putting in place a term-limit for Rajya Sabha members. The idea is part of the party’s attempt to give it a “young look.”
Two senior leaders, who are playing a key role in deliberations in the run-up to the Congress Chintan Shivir beginning Friday in Udaipur, told The Indian Express that the party is “seriously thinking” about the two ideas though it is not yet clear “what shape these proposals will take”.
“I can tell you there is certainly a thinking in this direction… We are seriously thinking, but I cannot say now how it will come up,” one leader said.
It remains to be seen whether the ideas will come up for discussion at the Chintan Shivir which is being held to deliberate and find a roadmap for the party’s electoral revival. As many as 430 Congress leaders have assembled for the Shivir, the first such brainstorming session since the party’s electoral slide began in 2014. Addressing a meeting of the Congress Working Committee earlier this week, party president Sonia Gandhi said she was “determined” to ensure that the Shivir “heralds a restructured organisation to meet the many ideological, electoral and managerial challenges” that the party confronts.
Sources said a final shape on the two proposals is yet to emerge. For instance, what should be the age ceiling: 70 or 75? And whether to limit the terms of Rajya Sabha to 2 or 3? Another idea is to ensure that no new member above a certain age is inducted into any of the organisational bodies.
“Whenever the organisational revamp happens, be it in the CWC or the central election committee, care will be taken to ensure that a certain percentage of young leaders find a place. The same will apply to PCCs (state units) and district committees,” the leader said.
Leaders above the age of 70 and 75 are holding positions at several levels in the party. Sources said it is unlikely that they will be asked to step down. “There could be a gradual phase-out,” one leader said.
Sonia Gandhi is 75. There are indications that she will make way for a new president in August-September unless the CWC insists that she should continue until the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Addressing a press conference in Udaipur, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala reiterated that “Congress jan (people) want Rahul Gandhi to take over as Congress president” but said that the organisational election process to elect a new president is underway and will be completed in August.
Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, is 79. While AICC general secretary Oommen Chandy is 78, CWC members like Manmohan Singh and A K Antony are above 80 and Ambika Soni, Harish Rawat, P Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad are above 70. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is 71.
In states, Madhya Pradesh Congress president Kamal Nath is 75. If the Congress returns to power in Assembly elections, he is likely to be the frontrunner for the post of Chief Minister. The same is the case of Bhupinder Singh Hooda in Haryana. So will there be exceptions? Sources said clarity on these aspects are yet to emerge.
Incidentally, the Congress leadership has ensured that half of the delegates at the Chintan Shivir are below the age of 50 who are, of course, expected to enthusiastically cheer and support such ideas if they come up.
The BJP has already set an age-ceiling of 75 years for holding posts in the organisation and for contesting elections. The CPM has put in place a retirement age of 75 for members in all bodies including the Politburo and Central Committee. The CPM has also been enforcing a norm barring a member from being elected to the Rajya Sabha for the third time.
The other ideas which may come up are revival of the Parliamentary Board mechanism, enforcing a “one family, one poll ticket” rule, the setting up of a dedicated structure to manage elections, and a cooling-off period of three years for office-bearers at all levels after a five-year term.