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Rahul new-order signal in heartland

New Delhi, Jan. 13: Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious plan to restructure the Congress organisation and create new leadership is getting manifested now as the reins of two big heartland states, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, have gone to young leaders.

Days after surprising everybody by appointing 48-year-old Arvinder Singh Lovely as Delhi unit president, Rahul opted for 36-year-old Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan and 39-year-old Arun Yadav in Madhya Pradesh.

Though both Pilot and Yadav are from backward castes, Congress leaders insisted the duo were picked for dynamism and age, not caste. Both are two-term Lok Sabha MPs, an indication that those who can win elections were given preference.

Ashok Tanwar, a 37-year-old first-time Dalit MP, is tipped to become the Congress’s Haryana unit president. Maharashtra could have a younger chief too.

Rahul had earlier appointed Ashok Chaudhary, 45, also a Dalit, as Bihar chief. Though in Chhattisgarh, he chose the not-so-young Bhupesh Baghel, who is 54, but signalled a clear departure from the Ajit Jogi era in his quest to create new leadership.

Congress leader Ambika Soni outside the residence of party president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. (PTI)

The generation shift brought in by Rahul is starkly visible: while the previous Delhi party chief J.P. Agarwal is 70 years old, Kantilal Bhuria, who headed the Madhya Pradesh unit, is 64. In Rajasthan, the outgoing chief Chandrabhan is 60. Rahul has almost cut down the leadership age by 25-30 years.

Though there is speculation about Jyotiraditya Scindia being given charge of Madhya Pradesh, the choice of Yadav was widely hailed as he was seen to be better placed to take along all factions.

His father Subhash Yadav was a towering leader of the state and headed the Congress unit for a long time. While leaders close to Digvijaya Singh and Arjun Singh’s son Ajay were opposed to the appointment of Scindia, there was also an issue about his royal lineage in this season of aam aadmis.

The Congress got a drubbing in the recent Assembly polls, with the BJP improving its position despite a two-term anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh. In Rajasthan, the Congress was almost wiped out, winning barely 21 of the 200 seats.

Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan together send 54 members to the Lok Sabha. The Congress had won 32 of the seats in 2009.

If the Congress doesn’t improve matters, some fear a loss of over 25 seats in 2014. This will have a debilitating impact on the party’s plans as some in the party fear a shock in Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana decision.

In Rajasthan, the Congress holds 20 of its 25 Lok Sabha seats but and the Assembly poll debacle has sparked fears of a washout.

But the decision to send Pilot as the new leader has a risk, too, as the traditional caste logic doesn’t support the choice of a Gujjar like him.

Gujjars, who form 5 per cent of the electorate, had supported the Congress in the recent Assembly election. The community’s biggest leader, K.S. Bainsla, joined hands with chief minister Ashok Gehlot just before the polls but the party lost badly because the Jats, who make up 18 per cent of the population, were upset.

Even large sections of minorities opposed the Congress because of riots a few years ago.

Pilot is expected to tap youths cutting across caste lines and identify the party with the new kind of aspirational politics against current chief minister Vasundhara Raje, a royal with Scindia family roots.

One senior leader said: “Though caste is indeed a factor, Pilot is a good choice as he will fight his heart out and bring new dynamism into the organisation. He also carries the legacy of his father Rajesh Pilot, who was very popular in the state.”

The Congress hadn’t cared much for caste equations in Rajasthan earlier too. Outgoing chief minister Gehlot was a Mali, a community that accounts for less than 2 per cent voters.

The prime objective behind Rahul’s new appointments is to create new leadership across the country. The Congress vice-president believes the older leaders are unable to connect with the new socio-political reality, a factor that led to the emergence of a party like Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP.

More appointments of younger people are expected before Friday when the party unveils its strategy at an AICC session.