Ranchi, March 20: The Congress high command has signalled a change in the state party leadership with Rahul Gandhi summoning two relatively young Jharkhand leaders for a discussion in New Delhi, indicating he wanted to inject fresh ideas and enthusiasm in the state looking at Assembly elections in the immediate future.
According to a member of Rahul’s core group, the Congress’s national vice president met Sukhdeo Bhagat (47) and Geetashree Oraon (46) for one-to-one meetings today at his residence at 12, Tughlaq Lane, New Delhi.
He discussed the Congress’s prospects in Jharkhand, especially its strengths and weaknesses. “It was a kind of interview, a formal interaction before finalising a new state party president,” the close associate of Rahul told The Telegraph.
Indications are that Rahul will chose one of the two leaders — Bhagat has been in active politics since 2003, while Oraon is a new-comer — as the next state party chief.
The move comes as a huge blow to incumbent Pradeep Balmuchu who is understood to have lobbied hard with several seniors, right from Ahmed Patel to Oscar Fernandes, to be retained as state party chief.
Sources close to Rahul claimed he had set three criteria for the post. First, he was keen to pick a non-controversial face from among tribals, preferably someone from the Sarna faith.
Bhagat, a former party MLA from Lohardaga, and Oraon, a first-time MLA from Sisai, qualify on this count. Nevertheless, names of Sarfaraz Ahmed, another MLA, along with Subodh Kant Sahay, Ranchi MP and a former Union minister, were also under consideration
In a separate meeting with them, the sources added, Rahul is understood to have discussed possible reasons behind the alienation of tribal votes from the Congress and sought roadmaps for the party’s revival in Jharkhand.
A former civil servant, Bhagat is a postgraduate from Delhi University who contested elections in 2005 and won. A young and popular face of the party, he came to the limelight in 2003 when he took on RSS leader Ashok Varshney when he referred to Sarnas as Vanvashis.
Bhagat objected on the grounds that the RRS was trying to “kill the distinct identity” of Sarnas.
Oraon is the daughter of former Congress stalwart and Union minister Kartik Oraon. She is a new face known to be close to Rahul. But, given her lack of experience, many feel she isn’t the right person to handle party affairs in a state riddled with factionalism.