Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday constituted three committees to consider and discuss issues and policies related to economy, foreign affairs and national security, accommodating some Congress members who have in recent months raised issues about the functioning of the party. All committees will be headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Apart from Singh, the committee on economic affairs will have former Union ministers P Chidambaram, Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh, who will also be its convener, besides former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh. Chidambaram was one of those who expressed concern over the party’s performance in the Bihar elections.
In the committee on foreign affairs, Singh will be assisted by former Union ministers Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and Salman Khurshid besides Saptagiri Sanka Ulaka, a Lok Sabha member from Koraput in Odisha. Khurshid has been named its convener.Tharoor and Sharma were among the 23 signatories of a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi in August this year, seeking internal elections and organisational overhaul.
The former PM will also head the committee on national security. Its members are Ghulam Nabi Azad (another signatory of the August letter), former Union minister M Veerappa Moily (also a signatory), Vincent H Pala, a Lok Sabha member from Shillong in Meghalaya, and V Vaithilingam, a former chief minister of Puducherry. Pala is its convener.
The committees should help the party come up with consistent messaging on important issues. For instance, the Congress position on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership has come across as confused. While Ramesh said India has done the right thing by not joining the grouping, Sharma, a former trade minister termed not joining the grouping “a strategic blunder”.
The appointments come against the backdrop of rumblings within the Congress over the outcome of the assembly elections in Bihar, and by-polls to 58 seats across 11 states.
Out of these, the Congress won just 12,while the BJP won 40, comfortably retaining power in Madhya Pradesh and getting a majority on its own in Manipur. The Congress held 44 of these 58 seats earlier and failed to win any seat in the by-elections to Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and Telangana.
In Bihar, the Congress won just 19 of the 70 seats it contested and, according to some analysts, impacted the chances of the opposition alliance to oust the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
In the wake of the outcome, a war of words erupted in the Congress. Senior leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal, one of the 23 signatories, questioned the leadership on the poll debacle and asked if it was “business as usual”.
Sibal was countered by Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, former Union ministers Salman Khurshid and Mallikarjun Kharge, and the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Youth Congress president Srinivas BV, Delhi unit chief Anil Chaudhary and other leaders.
In an interview to Dainik Bhaskar earlier this week, Chidambaram said the party’s performance in the assembly elections in Bihar and by-polls show that there is either “no organisational presence on the ground, or it has weakened considerably”. He said the Congress fought more seats in Bihar than its organisational strength, and called for a “comprehensive review”. Chidambaram added that he was “more worried” about the by-election results.
Chidambaram, a former finance minister, on Monday tweeted, “RCEP born, it is the world’s largest trading body. 15 nations in our region are members of RCEP, India is not among them. There are pros and cons to India joining RCEP, but the debate has never taken place in Parliament… It is another bad example of centralised decision-making unacceptable in a democracy.”
The Congress president had last year stated that signing RCEP will deal a “body blow” to the economy. After India walked out of the mega free trade agreement last year, the Congress claimed victory, saying its forceful opposition had ensured that the BJP-led government backed out from the deal.