No big bang changes in Congress under Rahul Gandhi anytime soon

Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath
Congress President Rahul Gandhi with Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath | Getty Images

The new party president was expected to bring in his own leadership team, but he’s maintaining status quo at the top and concentrating on the states.

New Delhi: It’s been a month-and-a-half since Rahul Gandhi took charge as president of the Congress, but he is yet to bring in his own team to take over various important positions in the party.

Even with the 2019 general elections being just about one year away, highly-placed Congress sources say this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, since the Gandhi scion is currently focusing on strengthening the party in various states and making only incremental changes, instead of bringing in any big bang disruptions.

Sources also say members of Gandhi’s non-political core team will continue to play their roles, and will not be brought into the party structure.

“Changes will be seen closer to the Lok Sabha elections, with Rahulji giving his trusted political aides greater roles in the party. For now, he is busy focusing on how to make the party stronger in the states,” a source said.

“For instance, in Karnataka, a media cell was created last month comprising just local leaders, to participate in national debates. No top-down Delhi leaders were included in this list. In Uttar Pradesh, he is pushing for an alliance with the Samajwadi Party, since he feels that is how the Congress will find meaningful space and heft in the state. In Telangana, we know he poached TDP strongman Revanth Reddy late last year.”

Status quo

It’s clear the Gandhi’s attempt is to ensure there isn’t any friction caused by ringing in personnel changes, and the so-called ‘old guard’ of the party remains accommodated. He is focusing on making smaller changes, like appointing close aide Krishna Allavaru as the party’s all-India joint secretary and in-charge of the Indian Youth Congress, following up on the earlier appointment of Ruchi Gupta as AICC secretary and national in-charge of Congress-affiliated student union NSUI.

Among his non-political aides, the two most important people in Gandhi’s office whose profile and status have grown the most are Kanishka Singh and K. Raju. Singh now handles finances in Gandhi’s office and coordinates with the party treasurer Motilal Vora, and is in charge of all litigation. He travels frequently to handle all litigation related to the party president. Raju, meanwhile is the head of Gandhi’s office, as well as in charge of the important SC/ST cell of the party. Gandhi himself sits in on all key meetings and follows up with political leaders thereafter, when required.

Other close aides like Kaushal Vidyarthee, Alankar Sawai and K. Byju have clear roles as well. While Vidyarthee takes care of coordination and logistics, Sawai is the research person and Byju is Gandhi’s man on the ground, providing feedback on candidates, the mood and more. Preeti Sahai, who heads Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s office, plays a crucial role in coordinating between the siblings’ offices.

“Rahulji creates clear silos between political and professional, and hence, people from his office will not be given political roles, such as political secretary to the party president etc. They will stay in their current roles, though their clout might grow,” a party leader said.

For political strategy, Gandhi relies on political leaders, and that arrangement is expected to continue. Sources say he is unlikely to have one person as political secretary, unlike his mother and previous Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had Ahmed Patel working in that role.

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