The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soni survives with painless wound

New Delhi, Jan. 19: Congress president Sonia Gandhi has divested Ambika Soni of the charge of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where the party was routed in the Assembly polls, but retained her in the inner circle.

In an organisational shuffle to gear up the party for the coming general elections, the Congress president gave Soni charge of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal.

Sonia also named Digvijay Singh as well as Ashok Gehlot — both of whom presided over the downfall in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — special invitees to the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body.

The state redistribution is a setback to Soni as her new charges are not big states with a decisive say in the numbers game.

For instance, Jammu and Kashmir has six Lok Sabha seats and the Congress will have to work out an understanding with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Peoples’ Democratic Party to claim four of them. Uttaranchal has only five Lok Sabha seats.

But the blow has been cushioned by Sonia’s decision to retain Soni as the in-charge of the Congress president’s office. This means Soni will continue to be an interface between the party high command and the states when they bring their inputs to the central office. Soni remains in control of the media department, too.

Senior MP Priya Ranjan Das Munshi has been put in charge of Madhya Pradesh. The move seems to be aimed at placating a section of the party, which had been demanding Soni’s scalp ever since the Congress was routed in the state and Rajasthan.

This section, including veterans like Natwar Singh and Arjun Singh, were backing the Bengal MP, who has been given a berth in the party’s central committee as a special invitee almost after two decades.

The changes in the party, aimed at plugging organisational loopholes, have been made carefully so as to avoid displeasing any section. The Congress being well-known for its factional strife, Sonia did not want to make any move that could trigger intra-party turbulence — something that would only damage its image in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

Digvijay has been put in charge of Assam and Orissa where the Congress is not faring too well. The former chief minister, therefore, faces a formidable challenge of rejuvenating the party in the two states.

Gehlot has been given charge of Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“These are chief ministers who have earlier won elections. There is no reason why the party cannot use their experience,” Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes said.

Mohsina Kidwai is the new in-charge of Rajasthan, while Uttar Pradesh has been taken away from Nawal Kishore Sharma and given to Birendra Singh, a leader from Haryana.

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