The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia to redeploy generals

New Delhi, Feb. 7: Big changes — bigger than those being hitherto talked about in AICC circles — may be in the offing at the Congress headquarters. Party president Sonia Gandhi is understood to be thinking of using the services of senior leaders at the party headquarters to put together an effective AICC team for the electoral battles ahead.

The creation of two senior posts is on top of Sonia’s AICC revamp plan — a working president or vice-president and a secretary-general.

Arjun Singh is being considered for the post of working president/vice-president but Sonia is aware of the opposition within the Congress to the veteran party leader. Therefore, the names of Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee are also being mentioned, party sources said. Mukherjee, the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief, could be picked for the secretary-general’s job.

Arjun Singh has been party vice-president in the mid-1980s under Rajiv Gandhi. He was also a working president, but of the breakaway Congress (T), which he formed with N.D. Tiwari in 1995. Arjun Singh and Mukherjee have been part of Sonia’s inner circle of advisers on policy and organisational issues, though they do not hold formal posts in the AICC.

The biggest loser in the exercise is likely to be Ambika Soni, who is a general secretary and Sonia’s political secretary. The sources said Soni may be dropped and that she is in the know about Sonia’s plans.

The proposed changes, sources say, are likely to see other general secretaries such as Mukul Wasnik being dropped. His exit might pave the way for the rehabilitation of former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh as a general secretary.

It was widely rumoured at the time of Deshmukh’s removal last month from chief ministership that he might be brought to the AICC.

However, it is unclear whether Ghulam Nabi Azad will also make a comeback as general secretary, though his name had been doing the rounds.

But indications are that Buta Singh could be made general secretary. Sonia is said to be considering Ramesh Chennithala, a secretary holding independent charge of Tamil Nadu and Goa, for another general secretary, possibly to take charge of the party’s frontal organisations.

There are also indications that Sonia might review the functioning of AICC secretaries, many of whom do not have substantive assignments. One of the secretaries — Chandan Bagchi, the party nominee for the solitary Legislative Council vacancy in Bihar — may be already on his way out.

The changes are likely to be effected after the current round of Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura. However, some people in the party do not rule out the changes being made before the polls, though no senior party leader is willing to publicly talk about the possible changes, let alone confirm them.

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