New Delhi: In the run up to key state elections over the next two years, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s immediate team is gradually taking control of party’s organisation, injecting fresh blood into India’s oldest political party.
In nearly last four months, key aides of Gandhi have been assigned important roles, not only in poll-bound states but also in frontal organisations, in an attempt to strike a balance between the old guard and young blood that have been at loggerheads in the past.
In Bihar, where the Congress is facing an internal rebellion, senior party leaders feel that Gandhi could appoint younger leaders with whom he has worked, to replace existing office bearers.
Signalling the change, Saturday saw two new appointments in key positions—Deepak Babaria, a close aide of Gandhi, was elevated as general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh and Sushmita Dev, first-time Lok Sabha member from Assam, as the chief of Mahila Congress, the party’s women’s wing.
Babaria, who is from Gujarat and was earlier a secretary handling the party’s Kerala unit, replaces Mohan Prakash, a veteran party leader who was relieved of responsibility in the poll-bound state.
Other recent appointments of close Gandhi aides as general secretaries of poll- bound states include former Rajya Sabha member Avinash Pande, made in charge of Rajasthan, and Lok Sabha member K.C. Venugopal of Karnataka. R.P.N. Singh and P.L. Punia were made in charge of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh recently.
“The appointment of leaders like Babaria and Venugopal points to readying of a new team for the 2019 state as well as general elections. Organisationally speaking, it is also in line with the party’s decision that general secretaries should not oversee more than one big state and that a more hands-on approach should be applied," a senior party leader said requesting anonymity.
The Congress party faced a humiliating loss in the 2014 general elections to Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Party president Sonia Gandhi-led Congress has performed poorly in most state elections since then.
Almost all these new roles have been assigned while divesting veteran party leader, general secretaries in most cases, of larger roles. In a bid to ensure that the inclusion of Gandhi’s close aide does not trigger an internal power struggle, veteran party leaders have also been retained in top posts.
“The changes in the party organisation have to be seen in conjunction with the ongoing internal organisation polls and the eventual elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the top post. There is a view in the party that he wants to build his team first and then take over instead of the other way round," a senior general secretary of the party said requesting anonymity.
The 47-year-old leader is expected to take over the reins from his mother Sonia Gandhi soon, as the internal organisational polls are expected to be completed by the end of the year. In November last year, the party’s apex decision making body—Congress Working Committee (CWC)—nominated Rahul Gandhi to the top post, but the decision is subject to the endorsement of Sonia Gandhi.