In the aftermath of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab many have begun to question the “usefulness” of holding elections in the Youth Congress and NSUI. According to them, elections have proved counter-productive for three reasons. One: they increase bitterness among people belonging to the same party by intensifying rivalries. Two: those who end up winning have little or no authority either to reward or to punish and consequently no one listens to them. Ultimate power continues to be vested in a predominantly nominated National Committee. Three: they heighten expectations among elected office-bearers- that winning elections somehow entitles them to contest on a party ticket in a general election- and these “great expectations” are seldom fulfilled.
For the record, I am all for holding elections. To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, “election is the worst form of running the Youth Congress except all the others that have been tried.” As a way of picking the best persons for the job, there can be no better method. The fault, if I may use that word, lies with the fact that elections in themselves do nothing to empower those elected. On the contrary elections ensure that those who come to constitute elected committees harbor deep-rooted distrust for each other from day one. They either work against each other or not at all.
There is nothing in our system to ensure a return to truce after elections are over and done with. By truce I don’t mean a re-kindling of affection. That might be a bit too much to expect from a process necessarily designed to produce winners and losers. What one can expect however by way of a truce is a “working relationship”: a relationship that works for the greater benefit of the party. This can only be realized by recognizing- and legitimizing- the Hierarchy that elections give rise to.
Democracy in the form of election is undoubtedly the least worst if not the best way of selecting our youth leadership. But the problem, as I see it, is that those elected are entrusted with all the responsibility without having any authority to discharge those responsibilities. This, as any management student knows only too well, is a recipe for disaster. As it is, authority is taken away from those elected and placed into the hands of an entirely unelected and anointed National Committee.
This can be remedied in two ways. One: by having an elected National Committee at the top. Two: by giving those elected as heads of committees at various levels (from state to panchayat) the power to appoint and discipline those who are supposed to work with them. Without this most basic power, they will continue to have no authority. Presidents of committees, I would suggest, must have the power to appoint at least 5 secretaries of their choosing (provided of course they fulfill certain norms); and to initiate disciplinary action (subject to procedure and open to appeal) against the rest.
As far as increased expectations among those elected (in particular the winners) goes, it is only natural. But the mere fact of winning cannot and should not entitle them to a party ticket in a general election: that would depend a lot more on their performance once they have won and gotten elected. There must be an objective criteria for evaluating this performance. "Pehchan" mustn't remain merely a theoretical model: it must be linked directly to ticket-allocation. Unfortunately the fact that they have no authority- and must answer to those who have themselves not been elected- makes it difficult for them to perform to their fullest capacity. Once they have that authority, I sincerely believe, their performance is bound to improve leaps and bounds- and if all goes well, they would in due course emerge as the natural choice for party tickets. All they have to learn then is to be patient and bide for time.
And while on the subject of time, what UP and Punjab- as also Jharkhand and Bihar- have specifically taught us is that it would be best if the timing of election was so adjusted that it precedes a general and assembly election by a period of not less than two years, i.e. one full term of a committee’s lifespan in the case of national and state committees respectively. This way the bitterness that elections give rise to would have had time to mellow down and the elected committees had time to prove their full worth.
The way elections have been held in the Youth Congress have regularly undergone changes in the past: direct elections for assembly committees gave way to panchayat and ward level delegates electing them (this was done to increase the geographic spread of membership to rural areas); multi-tier level of electors (with panchayat-level delegates electing assembly and Lok Sabha committees and they in turn voting for the state committee) gave way to a single tier of electors simultaneously voting for assembly, Lok Sabha and state committees (to minimize horse-trading of delegates and also to ensure that those with widest appeal- and network- get elected); and most recently polling booths have replaced panchayats and wards as fundamental electoral-units (to bring organizational elections in line with general elections and ensure better booth-level management).
Change- the ability to identify shortcomings and improve- therefore continues to be our greatest strength. But thus far all changes have been restricted only to way elections are held. The philosophy of change must perforce now be applied to the way elected committees function. And the agency for applying those changes too must undergo a change. FAME is a widely respected institution no doubt but it is totally non-political. Political considerations are sometimes totally overlooked and its actions have of late become open to allegations of arbitrariness and inquisitorialness. (For instance: the ground cited for disqualification and re-election in Youth Congress elections in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka was totally ignored by FAME in the last NSUI election in Chhattisgarh.)
The reason, I believe, is that unlike the decisions of Election Commission of India responsible for conduct of general elections, the decisions taken by FAME are not subject to judicial review for fear that they might constitute party indiscipline: if this impediment were to be removed, by the party itself, I am sure that instances of these allegations would reduce considerably. I am also sure that this is something FAME should have no reason to object to.
We must not forget that we are after all a political body in the business of winning elections. Decisions at the top must therefore always remain political. By subjecting ourselves utterly and unconditionally to a non-political authority that might not necessarily subscribe to our ideology- or even share our interests- we tend to compromise our political character. FAME should remain the appellate rule-enforcing body; but the rules themselves should be made- and unmade- by a political entity totally and unquestionably committed to our ideology and whose only guiding principle is party-interest.
Before parting, let me clarify that I am not for one minute advocating that the suggestions made here should be followed blindly. All that I can reasonably hope for is that the issues raised by me in this note might act as a starting point for a more comprehensive debate among the youth of Congress party at a time when, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”