New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepted responsibility for his role in the appointment of a corruption-tainted official as chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) that the Supreme Court struck down on Thursday as party chief Sonia Gandhi revamped the Congress leadership in a bid to generate fresh momentum within the organization ahead of key state elections.
The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has been reeling under a series of corruption allegations and criticism of its actions by the country’s highest court, the latest of which was the quashing of the CVC appointment, which had been approved by Singh.
“I have already said I respect the judgement of the Supreme Court,” Singh told a televised press conference in Jammu on Friday, Reuters reported. “I accept my responsibility.”
His remark served to ease some of the political pressure on him, with opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj saying that the matter should rest there.
“I appreciate the statement of Prime Minister owning responsibility for the appointment of CVC, which has been quashed by the Supreme Court,” she said in a Twitter message. “I think this is enough.”
BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy, however, said that Singh’s statement doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for the decision.
Meanwhile, Gandhi reconstituted the Congress working committee (CWC) and the party secretariat. She, along with Prime Minister Singh, has been facing criticism by the opposition and political observers for the failure to deal with the various crises facing the Congress and the government.
Several veterans have been dropped, but not too many young leaders have been inducted.
“The list is uninspiring and does not reflect organization change or revival as expected,” said Zoya Hasan, professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). “It is certainly not suggesting that the Congress is on the road to recovering its organizational vigour.”
Mohsina Kidwai, Mallikarjun Kharge, V. Kishore Chandra Deo, V. Narayanaswamy, G. Venkatswami (who recently criticized Gandhi’s leadership publicly) and Prithviraj Chavan (appointed Maharashtra chief minister in November) have been dropped from CWC, the apex decision-making body of the party.
Arjun Singh, who was dropped as CWC member but listed as a permanent invitee, died hours after the list was made public.
Law minister M. Veerappa Moily and K. Keshava Rao, who was the general secretary in charge of poll-bound West Bengal, were dropped as general secretaries while environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh and youth Congress leader Alka Lamba are no longer in the list of secretaries.
The significant fresh inclusions are former Lok Sabha member Madhusudan Mistry as CWC member, besides home minister P. Chidambaram, Shakeel Ahmed and Mohan Prakash as permanent invitees to CWC. While Ahmed has been given the charge of West Bengal, Jharkhand and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Prakash will be in charge of the crucial states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir.
The full list of office-bearers includes 19 members (with voting rights) of CWC, its 17 permanent invitees and five special invitees. The all India Congress committee office bearers are nine general secretaries, 28 secretaries and five unattached secretaries.
Only around five-six younger leaders have been included, apart from Rahul Gandhi, who will continue as general secretary in charge of the youth and student wings of the party.
He will be assisted by Shanimol Usman from Kerala, along with current secretaries— Meenakshi Natarajan and Jitendra Singh.
N. Bhaskara Rao, psephologist and chairman of Centre for Media Studies, said the changes fell short of expectations.
“After the UPA government disappointed the nation with an uninspiring cabinet reshuffle (in January), something different was awaited in the party revamp,” he said. “The Congress leadership, which talks about inclusiveness, seems to have made it very exclusive. It is also insensitive to the demography of the country’s voters, among which one-third are 18-24.”
There were dissenting voices within as well. A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, said the leadership had “missed yet another golden chance to boost the morale of the party”, especially when it’s gearing up for elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry in April-May.
JNU’s Hasan said the practice of nominations, rather than elections, doesn’t offer much scope for rejuvenation.
“No renewal or revival of an organization is possible through nomination process,” Hasan said. “The Congress has not shown its will to stop this nomination exercise.”
Those retained in CWC include senior ministers Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni. Other senior leaders in the committee are Motilal Vora, Digvijay Singh and Janardan Dwivedi.
Oscar Fernandes has been promoted to CWC and made a general secretary. Ahmed Patel will continue as political secretary to Sonia Gandhi. Andhra Pradesh, which has the largest number of Congress members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha in two successive elections, does not have any members in the reconstituted CWC.
Reuters, Anuja of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.