New Delhi: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will lead the party’s election coordination committee for the 2014 parliamentary polls, assuming greater responsibility within the country’s oldest political party.
The appointment on Thursday follows a meeting of the party’s top brass in Surajkund on the outskirts of the capital on 9 November that was presided over by his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The panel will devise strategies for the party’s election campaign and work “cohesively” with the government for a “renewed mandate,” Sonia Gandhi said at the Surajkund meeting.
The newly appointed team, which comprises Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, general secretaries Janardan Dwivedi, Digvijay Singh, Madhusudan Mistry and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, will focus on improving the image of the party and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, a party general secretary said, requesting anonymity.
The UPA has in recent years been battered by a slew of corruption charges that include wrongful allocation of second-generation radio spectrum and coalfields to private firms, causing huge notional losses to the national exchequer.
The appointment of Rahul Gandhi is a clear signal that he is going to take on more responsibilities in the party, said a member of the election co-ordination committee, who declined to be named. “The new committee and the sub-groups have his stamp.” he said. “He is slowly taking over the reins of the party.”
The Surajkund meeting decided to form three sub-groups for pre-poll alliances, manifesto and government programmes and communication and publicity, including a mix of young and experienced leaders, looking to align itself with the new, young demography in the country and instill fresh energy and morale.
The corruption scandals have dented the popularity of the Congress party, which won 207 seats in the Lok Sabha, the highest any single party has won in the past two decades. Rising prices and a persisting economic downturn have worsened the situation for the UPA administration.
The generational change in the Congress is taking place through the “back door” in a “calculated manner”, said Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug.
“Setting up for the election machinery is easier than a portfolio in the government,” he said, adding, “The new team is a good blend of young and astute politicians, which means it is looking for good synergy of young and astute communicators.”
The new team is also expected to coordinate between the government and the party. The Congress president had expressed her concern over the widening gap between the two.
“The government has to incorporate party’s concerns and the party has to understand the urgent imperatives facing the government,” Sonia Gandhi said at the Surajkund meet.
The pre-poll alliances’ sub-group is headed by defence minister A.K. Antony and has oil minister M. Veerappa Moily, and their party colleagues Jitendra Singh, Suresh Pachauri, Mohan Prakash and Mukul Wasnik as members.
The 10-member manifesto and government programme group, which is expected to assess the implementation of the welfare programmes initiated by the UPA government, is also headed by Antony. Its members comprise finance minister P. Chidambaram, home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, trade minister Anand Sharma, foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid and party spokespersons Sandip Dikshit and Renuka Chowdhury, and Ajit Jogi and P.L. Punia. The surprise inclusion in this group is Mohan Gopal, director at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies in New Delhi, who is a special invitee.
Addressing the one day brainstorming session, Sonia Gandhi had urged the party to derive maximum political mileage from the government’s flagship programmes and welfare measures.
Digvijay Singh will also lead the sub-group for communication and publicity. The seven members in this panel include former information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni, current information and broadcasting minister Manish Tiwari, power minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, minister of state for parliamentary affairs Rajiv Shukla, and party lawmakers Deepender Hooda and Bhakta Charan Das.