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Old guard returns in Cong

- Party banks on new synergy between Rahul’s team and veterans for 2014
Rahul Gandhi with Congress leader Madhusudan Mistry during the meeting in New Delhi. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha

New Delhi, Jan. 10: The Congress has begun preparations for the Lok Sabha election in right earnest, stitching up organisational issues and addressing matters of public concern before the January 17 AICC meeting which will be used to project Rahul Gandhi’s leadership in a big way.

The core group met this morning and discussed organisational reshuffle, particularly shifting of certain central ministers to party work, and asked the government to ensure passage of the six anti-corruption framework bills in Parliament in February.

The party has also put on fast track the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh to ensure that Telangana comes into being soon after the statehood bill is passed in Parliament in the next session.

Talks with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) for merger with the Congress are at a very advanced stage, an alliance that would guarantee a rich electoral harvest in the new state. Alliance talks in Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have also been initiated.

The party is alive to public anger on rising prices, and is considering providing relief by raising the limit of subsidised cylinders from nine to 12 in a year. Petroleum minister Veerappa Moily, who had so far refused to consider this demand, changed his tune today after some Congress MPs bluntly told him there was no point in contesting elections without addressing people’s vital concerns.

Moily said he would consult finance minister P. Chidambaram and move the cabinet committee on political affairs.

In the organisation, which has seen much unease owing to the diminishing clout of the “old guard” and excessive importance to those who are not traditional Congressmen, some corrective measures were taken yesterday.

There was a strong feeling that leaders like Madhusudan Mistry, C.P. Joshi and Mohan Prakash who do not know the organisation too well were given the crucial responsibility of candidate selection in state elections while veterans were ignored. This grievance has largely been addressed now.

Signalling a clear return of the old guard, nine of 10 screening committees announced for candidate selection in the country are headed by veterans. Only the key state of Uttar Pradesh has gone to the young Rahul Gandhi loyalist, Jitendra Singh.

The other nine screening committees are headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Vayalar Ravi, Oscar Fernandes, Mallikarjun Kharge, Pawan Bansal, P.C. Chacko, V. Narayansamy and Bhubaneswar Kalita.

This announcement has pleased senior leaders and a large number of ticket-seekers who felt the “solo mission” of candidate-hunting by general secretary Mistry could have invited disastrous consequences.

Mistry, who is new to the Congress, was being assisted by Ashish Kulkarni, who had come from the Shiv Sena. There was a fear that candidate selection would be overseen by outsiders like Prakash and Mistry, but Rahul finally created a mechanism through which the veterans will work in tandem with his new team.

While Prakash, Mistry and Joshi are members of the screening committees along with young leaders close to Rahul they will have to work under the guidance of veterans who have been with the party for decades. Rahul met the new heads of the screening committees today and said candidates for Lok Sabha would be declared soon.

The party hopes the new synergy between the top leaders and the younger forces would ensure sound election management and yield better results in 2014.