New Delhi: Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday inducted two young leaders as the state unit chiefs of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, fortifying a youthful team ahead of this week’s Congress meet that is expected to name him the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the general election.

Also on Monday, Gandhi took part in a youth march, part of a grassroot-level reachout programme of the youth wing of the party’s Kerala unit.

Experts said the two developments pointed to a Congress bid to reach out to the youth in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections due by May.

Sachin Pilot and Arun Yadav were appointed party chiefs in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—states where the Congress suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in recently held assembly elections.

The appointment of 36-year-old Pilot, corporate affairs minister in the Union government, and 39-year-old Yadav, who has been a Congress secretary, follows Gandhi’s insistence that youths be given larger roles in the party.

The appointments assume significance because the party is expected to announce Rahul Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate at an All India Congress Committee meet on Friday in New Delhi. However, leaders familiar with the development said no final decision on the matter has been taken yet.

Pilot, the son of late Congress leader Rajesh Pilot, who joined politics under the influence of Rahul Gandhi’s father and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, is a member of the team that Gandhi is leading in order to revamp the party from the grassroot level.

Although the leadership is not expecting Pilot to “do any magic" before the Lok Sabha election, the young leader would be focusing on strengthening the organisation at the ground level and revitalize the cadre.

The party was given a drubbing in the Rajasthan election, its tally reduced from 96 to a mere 21 in the 200-member assembly. And at least three party leaders, who did not want to be named, admitted that the party’s performance in Rajasthan in the parliamentary polls is set to be poor. The state accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats.

“It will be challenging. But I will be doing my best," Pilot told Mint about his new job.

Yadav, son of Subash Yadav, a veteran Congress leader from Madhya Pradesh, will take charge of the party in a state where the Congress has not been able to return to power since being voted out in 2003.

“Yadav has the uphill task of taking along the numerous factions in the state units, which are led by veterans. He is young and has a clean image," said a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.

“The party leadership is of the view that he has a big task, a serious challenge, but not a ‘mission impossible’."

Both Yadav and Pilot belong to Other Backward Classes (OBC) communities.

The Congress earlier appointed 46-year-old Arvinder Singh as the chief of its Delhi unit and 47-year-old Bhupesh Baghel as president of the Chhattisgarh unit—two other states where it lost.

While it failed to topple a decade-old BJP government in Chhattisgarh, it came an embarrassing third in Delhi behind the BJP and the newly emerged Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst, said the new appointments showed that the party is “opening up to the demographic shift".

“The Rahul squad is being unleashed now for the new command," said Rao, who has been observing the Congress party for the last four decades.

But, he added, the changes may not yield immediate results. “Rahul is looking beyond this election. He will put out solid people who can carry him through."

Gandhi attended the Kerala youth march soon after an interaction with the youth in Karnataka, where he reiterated the need for the party to encourage participation by young supporters.

These developments are seen as the Congress vice-president’s attempts to regain the support-base the party enjoyed among the youth, as well as to energize the youth wing of the party. The Congress returned to power in 2009 with an impressive tally—it won 206 of 543 Lok Sabha seats, the highest tally any single party had won since 1985.

However, a series of corruption charges against its leaders, failure to contain inflation and manage the economy and inability to create jobs have dented its image among the youth.

Gandhi asked the party’s steering committee that met on 10 January to allocate 40% of the Lok Sabha seats to candidates below 40 years of age.

Meanwhile, the Union cabinet has cleared a national youth policy aimed at empowering the youth to participate in the priority areas of education, skill development and entrepreneurship, besides politics and governance.

Indians aged between 15-29 years make up 27.5% of the population. Almost half of India’s voters are 18-35 years old.

Last week, Gandhi interacted with a group of 200 youths from various parts of the country to seek their feedback on the issues they want highlighted in the Congress manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections.

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