T Hrithik Reddy has just completed MBBS. The 22-year-old from Vikarabad in Telangana is likely to be the youngest among the more than 9,850 Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates who will elect the next Congress president on October 17. Hrithik, whose father is a former MLA, plays a role in the rivalry between two contenders Mallikarjun Kharg and Shashi Tharoor for the coveted post.
In Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, Vinod Kumar, who turns 24 next month, is equally thrilled. An MA in history, his journey into politics began as a student activist when he was an undergraduate. He does not belong to a political family, but became a PCC representative after registering 1,295 members during the party’s membership drive. Incidentally, Villupuram North district unit president, RP Ramesh, has enrolled the maximum number of members – 4,736 – in the state.
Hrithik’s school friend Sai Reddy, 23, is also a representative. His grandfather Chittem Narsi Reddy, a three-time MLA and two-time MLC, and his father C Venkateswara Reddy were killed in a Naxal attack in 2005. After completing his MBA, Sai took over his family’s construction business. He joined the Congress in 2018 and is now a representative from Telangana’s Narayanpet block, where his family dominates local politics.
With Ritvik, Vinod and Sai excited at their first opportunity, former Karnataka Speaker Kogodu Thimappa has seen two contests for the post of Congress president in the past – in 1996, when veteran Sharad Pawar and Rajesh Pilot challenged Sitaram Keshari; And in 2000, when Jitendra Prasada came face to face with Sonia Gandhi. At 90, Thimappa is the oldest of the representatives – just two weeks older than former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also a representative.
The Indian Express has reviewed the list of PCC delegates who will vote in the election between Kharge and Tharoor at 67 booths across the state and at the AICC headquarters in Delhi. The party’s central election authority led by Madhusudan Mistry has shared the list with contact details of representatives of both the candidates.
Of the total representatives, 30 percent are under 45 years of age, 46 percent are between 45 and 65 years, and 24 percent are over 65 years of age. As in electoral politics, men outnumber women by a ratio of 3 to 1. 72 percent of the total representatives are men.
With over 1,100 representatives, Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of representatives, followed by Maharashtra (along with Mumbai, which has a regional Congress committee), West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha.
Maharashtra and Mumbai together have more than 800 representatives, West Bengal has about 740, Tamil Nadu 700, Bihar 600 and Madhya Pradesh 500.
The number of delegates is determined according to the number of block committees. Roughly, the Congress has two block committees for each assembly constituency. There are 4,100 assembly constituencies in India. In some states, the party has more than two block committees in an assembly constituency. Each block committee selects/elects one representative. In some cases, two representatives are elected/elected from a block committee.
Then there are ex-officio members, such as MPs, MLAs, CWC members and AICC General Secretary. A few MPs are also selected as delegates from the block committee. For example, Rahul Gandhi is a block committee representative in Amethi. Congress president Sonia Gandhi is also a representative from Uttar Pradesh.
In most cases, the block committee selects the most influential member/leader of the booth as the representative. Hrithik, for example, is the son of T Rammohan Reddy, a former MLA and Vikarabad district party unit president. His family runs a chain of educational institutions including a medical college.
Except for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the delegates were elected unanimously. Mistry said, CEA cannot do much if there is no demand for elections. CEA’s contention is that if the block committee members decide to select representatives by consensus, CEA cannot insist on an election. He said, ‘There will be an election only if there is a demand.
Unlike previous years, the Congress membership campaign held before the organizational elections was partly digital this time. And it was decided that those who enrolled the maximum number of members would get the opportunity to become representatives. Of the 6 crore members the Congress claims to have enrolled, 2.6 crore members have joined through the digital drive.
When contacted, AICC data analysis department chairman Praveen Chakraborty said: “Media commentators use big phrases like internal party democracy etc. Few people truly understand and appreciate the difficult plumbing required to achieve this. Congress has a constitutional mechanism to form the Electoral College from the block level. It took nine months of painstaking efforts to reach this stage of a proper Electoral College with QR coded identity cards for every voter and an election for the President, led by CEA Chairman Madhusudhan Mistry. A healthy campaign is underway and party workers are being engaged and motivated, which is a first. It energized and revitalized the party’s rank and file. Rahul Gandhi has been advocating this for a long time.
Both Kharg and Tharoor are in touch with delegates as the poll date approaches. Hrithik, a representative of Telangana’s Pargi block committee, said he was undecided about who to vote for. “I’m still thinking. Both are really worthy candidates. It’s a tough choice. But whoever wins… I hope they do the best,” he told The Indian Express. He said he received a few telephone calls from both campaign teams.
“I feel really privileged…lucky. This is a first time experience. It feels great to be a part of it,” said Sai. “Khargezi is a tall leader with vast experience. He is a nine-time MLA, two-time Lok Sabha MP and now a Rajya Sabha MP. He is a great leader. Tharoor is an intellectual. The way he talks, he inspires the youth…most of them follow him. He has his own brand. So it’s a tough choice,” he said.