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Congress gets into shuffle mode

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The Congress leadership has begun to make changes to the organisation in the wake of the recent electoral debacle, though some of these decisions may be fraught with huge political risks.

The two state-level changes announced today for Delhi and Chhattisgarh surprised many senior leaders, who suspect the immediate challenge of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has not been given due weight and Rahul Gandhi’s long-term objective of creating a new leadership influenced the choices.

But top party sources differed. “It is a lie,” a senior leader said, asserting that the Congress vice-president had never given this impression that the 2014 elections were not his priority.

He said Rahul was deeply engrossed in preparations for the parliamentary elections and a campaign would be unveiled soon to match Narendra Modi’s propaganda.

Even the structural changes Rahul had planned for the organisation have been put off till the general election, the sources said.

Along with changes in the state leadership, including the possible replacement of the Uttarakhand chief minister, some central ministers will be drafted for party work to bolster the election management team.

There are indications that rural development minister Jairam Ramesh will quit the government within the next few days to join the war room full time, while some ministers will be allowed to do party work too.

Articulate ministers will be made spokespersons to address the communication crisis that has been the party’s bane, while some AICC office-bearers and spokespersons, who would contest the Lok Sabha elections, would be relieved.

Today’s appointment of Arvinder Singh Lovely as the Delhi unit chief in place of veteran Lok Sabha MP J.P. Agarwal, who had strained relations with former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, came as a surprise.

Lovely, one of the eight MLAs who retained their seats despite the anti-Congress wave in Delhi, was a minister in Dikshit’s cabinet and enjoys a rapport with her.

Although he is also close to AICC general secretary Ajay Maken, a Dikshit baiter, sources said Lovely wouldn’t work at cross-purposes with the former chief minister and that Rahul may have addressed the primary concern of disunity by making this choice.

There had been a demand to give the reins to Dikshit but Lovely, at 46, is nearly 30 years younger and would be able to give more time and energy to the party, the sources said.

But there is a larger political issue that appears to have been ignored. Delhi has more than 35 per cent voters from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who were traditionally supporters of the Congress but drifted towards the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the last election.

One of the primary reasons for the rout in Delhi was the shift of Dalit support to the AAP. Lovely’s appointment does not address this either. Many leaders feel a Muslim or a Dalit would have been preferable, though they conceded that Lovely is a popular leader and capable of injecting dynamism into the party machinery.

The party appears to have taken a greater risk in Chhattisgarh, where the appointment of Bhupesh Baghel as PCC president is nothing but a blunt message to Ajit Jogi to step aside.

There is a strong possibility of changes in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, too. Even in the AICC, there is a possibility of a shuffle at the level of general secretaries in the next few days.