Rahul Gandhi is trying for a smooth transition in the party order, as the old guard must be accommodated at least until 2019.
Soon after he was elected party president in December 2017, Rahul Gandhi declared “there are going to be new, exciting faces in the Congress”.
Exciting or not, he has certainly handpicked some fresh faces to include in his team, which some Congress leaders call a ‘work in progress’ because he only announces names in instalments. This new team is tasked with challenging the BJP in the year-end assembly polls and next year’s Lok Sabha polls.
Selecting the team has been a process closely monitored by his office, while Gandhi himself has interviewed the successful candidates. He has also conducted individual meetings with 20 state representatives in the last few months.
No CWC yet
However, Gandhi is yet to fill up some of the top posts in the party. Even four months after the All India Congress Committee plenary session, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) has not been re-constituted. An ad-hoc steering committee continues instead. Some general secretary and state in-charge posts also remain empty; no name has been announced as the successor to Ahmed Patel as political secretary either.
This is a departure from the past, when any new Congress president used to begin his/her tenure with the list of CWC members (12 of the 25 members are traditionally elected by AICC delegates while the president nominates the others). Gandhi, however, went along with the old guard, who advised him to take the nomination route – as a result, the 18 March AICC Plenary authorised him to nominate all the members. Possibly, this advice was given to ensure that Gandhi’s leadership was not undermined at this early stage.
In the absence of the CWC, some wonder how Gandhi did not consult even the steering committee on crucial decisions like lending support to the JD(S) to form the government in Karnataka, or the Kashmir issue.
Difficult to ignore old guard
Gandhi’s new team is a blend of the old guard and gen-next, as he has realised the old guard cannot be ignored. But he has been ruthless in dumping senior leaders like Janardhan Dwivedi, B.K. Hari Prasad, Mohan Prakash, Digvijaya Singh, among others. Even Ahmed Patel’s influence has reduced significantly.
It is not clear how Gandhi plans to utilise leaders like A.K. Antony, Shivraj Patil, Virbhadra Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid, Sheila Dikshit and Ambika Soni.
Unlike earlier, when one general secretary would handle three or four states, newly-appointed state in-charges just work in one province, assisted by three secretaries. They are supposed to spend at least 15 days in their respective states and cover booth-level management.
Gandhi’s inner circle
Gandhi has made some significant appointments by putting his confidants in important posts. He has made his close aides Rajeev Satav and Jitendra Singh the persons-in-charge of Gujarat and Odisha respectively, and named Amit Chavda as the new Gujarat unit chief. Niranjan Patnaik is the new Odisha PCC chief. Gujarat leader Shaktisinh Gohil is in charge of Bihar, and Anugrah Narayan Singh of Uttarakhand. Deepak Babaria is the new general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh and Sushmita Dev the chief of the Mahila Congress.
Among the seniors, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the head of the Jammu and Kashmir and northeast coordination committees. Kumari Selja is the election committee in-charge of Rajasthan, while Gandhi’s trusted aide Madhusudan Mistry holds this post in Madhya Pradesh.
The party’s leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge is general secretary in charge of Maharashtra and former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy is in-charge of Andhra Pradesh. Former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot is the organisational general secretary, while technocrat Sam Pitroda, who was close to Rajiv Gandhi, has been appointed chairman of the overseas Congress. Professor Rajeev Gowda, a Rajya Sabha MP, heads the party think tank.
In Madhya Pradesh, old warhorse Kamal Nath is the new Pradesh Congress chief. The PCC chiefs for some states like Kerala, UP and Haryana are still pending.
Among the younger lot, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Milind Deora, Ajay Maken, Sachin Pilot, Divya Spandana, Sushmita Dev and R.P.N. Singh are the rising stars. Gandhi takes the advice of senior leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, P. Chidambaram, Anand Sharma and Ahmed Patel on issues. But his core team remains mother and former Congress chief Sonia, sister Priyanka and himself.
The new driving force behind the party is Gandhi’s own office, headed by Kopulla Raju, a retired 1983-batch IAS officer. Kanishk Singh, Gandhi’s former secretary, is now tipped to succeed Motilal Vora as party treasurer. Alankar Sawai is in-charge of documentation and research and former actress Divya Spandana is heading the social media team.
Gandhi wants his team to be tech-savvy and keep a low profile. He has given a clear message that no one with any baggage will be in his new team.
What to expect
Will this team produce results? That’s the million-dollar question, as the list is not complete and there is not much time. Gandhi is trying for a smooth transition, as the old guard must be accommodated at least until 2019.
The strategy is clear – win or lose 2019, there is a mega plan for 2024, for which the Congress president is already preparing ground.