New Delhi: With an eye on the next general election, the Congress is poised to undertake a radical overhaul of the party, including axing of office bearers and aligning the leadership to the youthful demography of the country.
The changes, including the elevation of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi in the organization, are designed to allow Gandhi room to etch his imprimatur on the future of the country’s oldest political party. The underlying thinking is that new and younger cadres will stoke fresh thinking and thereby revive momentum in favour of the Congress ahead of a crucial round of electoral battles, beginning with elections to the state assemblies in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat next month.
According to a Congress leader, who is familiar with the developments, although the party’s top leadership has not yet finalized whether Gandhi should take over as working president or secretary-general, he is expected to be “overall-in charge and will work closely with Congress president Sonia Gandhi”. Despite mounting pressure from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a section of the party, Gandhi has reiterated his unwillingness to join the government but to continue as an organizational person.
The re-organization is expected to be based on the old principle of “one-man one-post”, at least two Congress leaders confirmed. Which means, theUnion ministers, who also hold organizational posts such as Ghulam Nabi Azad, party general secretary and health minister and Jitendra Singh, a Congress secretary who has been recently elevated as minister of state with independent charge in the ministry of sports and youth affairs, could be relieved of their organizational posts.
The Congress leadership is expected to announce a slew of changes in the coming days. It will re-organize the state units of poll bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Delhi as well as Punjab, Goa, Bihar and West Bengal.
Party-ruled states like Maharashtra and Haryana also likely to see fresh office bearers in their state units. The recent visits of the Congress president to Karnataka, and Rahul Gandhi’s to Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, also indicate the leaders’ attempts to re-energise the state units. Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh are scheduled to go for poll next year.
Congress’ electoral prospects and its organizational growth have been hampered by weakened state units that experts point out as a hurdle to the expansion of party at the grassroots. Although the party performed well in 2009 election—in which it got 206 seats, the highest won by any single party in the last two decades—it is in power alone only in few states including Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Assam and Manipur. It shares power with regional parties in Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir.
Both the Congress president and Rahul Gandhi repeatedly admitted that the organizational weakness has been a major issue before the party.
N. Bhaskar Rao, a political expert who has been closely following the developments in the party, said the revamp of the state units is more important than that of the central unit. “Appointing new presidents is not enough—you need able and imaginative people from the general secretaries to spokespersons. It needs more effective people who do not see the organizational posts as a waiting period and there should not be any compromized candidates,” Rao said adding that the Pradesh Congress Committees should have proper data base with the historical, geographical and social detailing of the states.
Uttar Pradesh, another state on which Rahul Gandhi has been keen on, has recently seen an overhaul with a new president, eight zonal presidents and vice-presidents, establishing a young leadership. Even the legislative party leader, Pradip Mathur, was Gandhi’s choice. The changes came after the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the state elections earlier this year despite a strong high-pitched campaign by Rahul.
The senior leaders like Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik and Subodh Kant Sahai who quit the cabinet last week are also likely to be given organizational charge. Although Soni is keen to take over as the president of the Punjab state unit, she may be drafted into the inner coterie of the Congress president. Sahai may be sent to Jharkhand as the PCC president, according to a Congress lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha. Wasnik is already a party general secretary.
Apart from Gandhi, Azad and Wasnik, the All India Congress Committee currently has B.K. Hariprasad, Birendra Singh, Digvijay Singh, Janardhan Dwivedi, Madhusudan Mistry, Oscar Fernandes and Vilas Muttemwar as general secretaries. It has nine people with independent charge of the states and 34 secretaries.