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Rahul shadow on Cong shuffle

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Sonia Gandhi is likely to reconstitute the 24-member Congress Working Committee before the Hyderabad plenary in end-January, but the more high-powered shuffle of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) may take longer.

One reason is that Rahul Gandhi’s induction into the working committee is now a formality. But on the other hand, though the chorus to make him an AICC general secretary has begun, Sonia would wait for a strong build-up before doing it, party sources said.

The reconstitution of the working committee and the AICC shuffle are interlinked not only because of Rahul, the sources said, but also because balancing social and regional interests in the party happens to be as important as it is in the government.

Besides Rahul, the Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the National Advisory Council, Jairam Ramesh, may make it to the working committee.

The exit of K. Natwar Singh from the working committee after he was named in the Volcker report has created a “vacancy” in the “Jat quota”, the sources said.

They conceded that Natwar was not a Jat leader in the mould of Charan Singh or Devi Lal (Natwar lost from Bharatpur in 1999 and did not fight the subsequent election). But they emphasised that the party brass was keen not to let the feeling grow in Rajasthan that the community had been “let down”.

Virendra Singh, a minister in Haryana, is being considered as a replacement. Virendra has apparently conveyed his willingness to give up his state government job for a berth in the central party apparatus.

The sources said the party chief was keen that women should be “properly” represented in the working committee.

“She would ideally like an older and a younger woman,” a party functionary said. The serious contenders are Vidya Stokes (a minister in Himachal Pradesh) and Jayanti Natarajan.

Others who have got a look-in are Noor Bano (former Rampur MP), Urmilaben Patel (wife of the late Gujarat chief minister Chimanbhai Patel), Anwara Taimur (former Assam chief minister), Prabha Rao and Rajya Sabha MPs Prabha Thakur and Prema Cariappa.

Among those leaving the working committee are Vilasrao Deshmukh (because he is now Maharashtra chief minister) and Salman Khursheed, the Uttar Pradesh Congress president.

There has been no precedent for keeping a state unit chief in the working committee, while chief ministers are indirectly involved by virtue of being permanent invitees to committee meetings.

The AICC shuffle is also linked with other long-pending exercises, such as expanding the cabinet, replacing governors whose terms end next month and filling vacancies for nominated posts in the Rajya Sabha.

Also, many party MPs in the upper House are due to retire soon, Arjun Singh and Karan Singh being two of them.

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