T Rithik Reddy just finished his MBBS. The 22-year-old from Vikarabad in Telangana is likely to be the youngest of the more than 9,850 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates set to elect the next congressional president on October 17. Rithik, whose father is a former MLA, is excited about playing a part in the match between Mallikarjun Kharge and Shashi Tharoor, the two contenders for the post.
In Villupuram, in Tamil Nadu, Vinod Kumar, who turns 24 next month, is equally enthusiastic. An MA in History, his journey in politics began as a student activist when he was a student. He does not come from a political family, but became a PCC deputy because he enrolled 1295 members during the party’s membership recruitment. Incidentally, the president of the Villupuram North District unit, RP Ramesh, wrote down the highest number of members – 4,736 – in the state.
Rithik’s school friend, Sai Reddy, 23, is also a delegate. His grandfather Chittem Narsi Reddy, a three-time MLA and two-time MLC, and his father C Venkateshwar Reddy were killed in a Naxal attack in 2005. After completing his MBA, Sai took over his family’s construction business. He joined Congress in 2018 and is now a deputy from the Narayanpet bloc in Telangana, where his family rules local politics.
While Rithik, Vinod and Sai are excited at their first chance, former Karnataka chairman Kogodu Thimmappa has seen two contests for the post of congress president in the past – in 1996, when veterans Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot challenged Sitaram Kesri; and in 2000, when Jitendra Prasada faced Sonia Gandhi. Thimmappa is 90 years old and the oldest of the deputies – just two weeks older than former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also a deputy.
The Indian Express reviewed the list of PCC delegates who will vote to choose between Kharge and Tharoor at the 67 booths across the states and at the AICC headquarters in Delhi. The list, containing contact details of the deputies, has been shared with both candidates by the party’s central electoral authority headed by Madhusudan Mistry.
Of the total number of delegates, 30 percent are under the age of 45, 46 percent are between 45 and 65 years and 24 percent are older than 65 years. As in electoral politics, there are more men than women with a ratio of 3 to 1. Seventy-two percent of the total number of deputies are male.
With just over 1,100 delegates, Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of delegates, followed by Maharashtra (along with Mumbai, which has a regional congress committee), West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha.
While Maharashtra and Mumbai together have just over 800 delegates, West Bengal has about 740, Tamil Nadu 700, Bihar 600 and Madhya Pradesh 500.
The number of delegates is determined based on the number of block committees. Broadly speaking, Congress has two block committees for each constituency. India has 4,100 constituencies. In some states, the party has more than two bloc committees in a constituency. Each block committee elects/selects one delegate each. In some cases, two delegates are elected/selected from a block committee.
Then there are ex officio members, such as MPs, MLAs, CWC members and AICC secretaries. Some MPs are also elected as deputies from the bloc committees. For example, Rahul Gandhi is a delegate to a block committee in Amethi. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also a delegate from Uttar Pradesh.
In most cases, the block committee chooses the most influential member/leader of the stand as the delegate. For example, Rithik is the son of T Rammohan Reddy, a former MLA and chairman of the district party unit in Vikarabad. His family runs a chain of educational institutions, including a medical university.
With the exception of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the delegates were elected by consensus. Mistry said the CEA can’t do much if there is no demand for elections. The CEA’s argument is that if the bloc committee members decide to elect a delegate by consensus, the CEA cannot push for an election. “Elections will only be held if there is a demand for them,” he said.
Unlike previous years, the Congressional members’ campaign, which was held in the run-up to the organizational elections, this time was partly digital. And it was decided that those who registered the most members would stand a chance of becoming delegates. Of the 6 crore members that Congress claims to have registered, 2.6 crore were added through the digital disk.
When contacted, AICC data analytics department chairperson Praveen Chakravarty said: “Media commentators use big phrases like internal party democracy and so on. Few really understand and appreciate the difficult plumbing required to achieve this. The Congress party has a constitutional method of forming an electoral college from the block level. It has been nine months of arduous efforts led by CEA chairman Madhusudhan Mistry to get to this stage of a real electoral college with QR coded ID cards for every voter and an election for the president. There is a healthy campaign and party workers are engaged and provoked, which is a first. It has revived and revived the grassroots of the party. Rahul Gandhi has been advocating this for a long time.”
As the election date approaches, both Kharge and Tharoor reach out to the deputies. Rithik, a representative of the Pargi bloc committee in Telangana, said he did not know who to vote for. “I’m still thinking. Both are truly deserving candidates. It’s a difficult choice. But whoever wins… I hope they make the most of it,” he told The Indian Express. He said he’d gotten a few calls from both campaign teams.
“I feel really privileged…happy. It’s a first experience. It feels great to be a part of it,” said Sai. “Khargeji is a tall leader with tremendous experience. He is a nine-time MLA, two-time Lok Sabha MP and now Rajya Sabha MP. He is a great leader. Tharoor is a intellectual. The way he talks encourages the young… most of them follow him. He has his own brand, so it’s a tough choice,” he says.