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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Party needed uplift but we got a sinking feeling: Rejig leaves Congress ranks aghast

Even staunch Rahul Gandhi loyalists are privately saying the rejig has been a second blow to the party in the run-up to the general election after the debilitating defeats in the heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh

Sanjay K. Jha New Delhi Published 25.12.23, 05:23 AM
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sachin Pilot.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Sachin Pilot. File picture

Saturday’s organisational shuffle has caused acute disappointment down the Congress ranks, with young and senior leaders alike complaining that the exercise lacked direction or purpose.

Even staunch Rahul Gandhi loyalists are privately saying the rejig has been a second blow to the party in the run-up to the general election after the debilitating defeats in the heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

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“When the party was yearning for uplift, we got a sinking feeling,” said a leader who, despite being a veteran of four decades in the Congress, favours a generational shift.

While the Congress has signalled a move towards a younger leadership in Madhya Pradesh, the message from Saturday’s changes has been confusing.

The return to older leaders who had been tested and discarded, such as Mohan Prakash, Avinash Pandey and Dipak Babaria, suggests either a lack of talent in the party or a reluctance to offer a new deal to the voters.

The hesitation to empower new leaders has been reflected in the reluctance to appoint Ramesh Chennithala and Bharatsinh Solanki as full-fledged general secretaries.

Chennithala and Solanki have spent decades in the Congress, rising from student wing NSUI to become ministers. But they are being treated on a par with those like Ajoy Kumar who joined politics after quitting the IPS and a corporate job.

Many in the party are wondering whether political work of decades has no worth in the leadership’s eyes and whether “outsiders” will continue to receive equal or even better treatment.

While most in the party are distressed at Saturday’s decisions, they are even more bewildered. “The decisions are inexplicable. We thought there would be a younger team but we see a glut of deadwood,” a leader said.

“Failed, discarded former office-bearers who can’t be called leaders have been brought out of retirement to fight a crucial battle. Are we serious about 2024 or have we slipped into surrender mode?”

The leader continued: “Sachin Pilot is the future of Rajasthan but he has been inducted into the high command structure and given a tribal state (Chhattisgarh). His value lies in urban areas.

“Priyanka Gandhi has been removed from Uttar Pradesh, which gives out the message that the revival project has been abandoned. Even if Priyanka is to be used as a campaigner, retaining her as a general secretary without portfolio is demeaning. This shows a lack of planning. She deserved a better profiling.”

Another leader said: “There was intense speculation about a change of general secretary in charge of organisation, a key post held now by K.C. Venugopal. The purpose of this reshuffle has been to scotch that speculation.

“That’s fine because you can’t make that big change just before the parliamentary elections. But that doesn’t mean you do a shoddy job with the whole organisation. It looks like a hurried, thoughtless arrangement. You harp on OBCs and appoint four Brahmins as top office-bearers.”

Many are surprised that the party has not appointed full-time general secretaries for the key states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Bengal and Tamil Nadu. General secretaries looking after other states have been given “additional charge” of these states.

G.A. Mir, who never did mainstream politics, has been dragged out of Kashmir for the first time to be given charge of Jharkhand and additional charge of Bengal. Jitendra Singh, whose main responsibility is Assam, has been given Madhya Pradesh as an additional charge.

The Congress has been talking about “performance monitoring” but Devender Yadav, who messed up in Uttarakhand, has been rewarded with the bigger responsibility of Punjab.

“We had heard of the existence of a coterie in the Congress but never believed it. Now we see how the coterie dominates party affairs to protect its own interests without any concern for the revival process,” one of the younger leaders said.

The constitution of a manifesto committee too has led to confusion, with many asking whether all the INDIA constituents will have their separate manifestos rather than the bloc having a common manifesto.

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