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Caution: polls ahead

The much-awaited revamp of the Cong is running behind schedule and it has got delayed possibly because of Sonia's indisposition, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Apr 02, 2008 18:58 IST
Between Us | Pankaj Vohra

The much-awaited revamp of the Congress and the UPA is running behind schedule. There were indications that it would happen sometime in 2007-end, but the matter has been delayed possibly because of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s indisposition. Now that she is fine, the reshuffle can take place on a date decided by her and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The need to revitalise the organisation has been felt over the past few months after repeated blunders by the office-bearers and senior functionaries in-charge of the states cost the party heavily. It was clear that the Congress had no strategy for the elections in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. But those responsible for losses seem to have got away without even a strong reprimand. In fact, they have tried to shift the focus by blaming others. Many of them have taken refuge in the fact that since Ms Gandhi and Rahul were involved in the campaigning, they are also responsible for the defeats. It is obvious that they don’t want to take into account the fact that Ms Gandhi and Rahul were only supposed to supplement their efforts.

As mentioned in this column three weeks ago, Ms Gandhi has done more than her share to strengthen the party. She not only stopped its slide in 1998, but it was only because of her that the party along with its allies was able to overcome the challenge of the “feel-good factor” of the NDA and wrest power at the Centre. If the Congress is forgetting its winning ways, it’s because those who earned her trust have repeatedly let her down.

Ms Gandhi has too many tasks at hand including coordinating with the UPA allies. But there seems to be a pattern in the wrong advice she has been getting over the past few years and this has led to the Congress not doing well even in its strongholds.

Take Himachal Pradesh for example. The Congress has lost power but is yet to formulate any strategy for the future. The appointment of Vidya Stokes as the Congress Legislature Party leader will not help the party. Stokes, who has a very distinguished track record, was a strong contender for the CM’s post in 2003. But Virbhadra Singh was appointed the CM.

She spent the next five years complaining to the party leadership how Singh’s appointment was not in the best interest of the Congress as he was “a law unto himself”. But no one heard her out. Now when the game is over, at least for the time being in HP, she is back in favour. But like Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, who was appointed in Punjab after Congress lost power last year, Stokes is not cut out for the job. She is too senior and someone younger should have been given the responsibility. Bhattal has also proved to be a failure as the leader of Opposition but the Congress has not been able to replace her even though she was made the Punjab Congress Committee chief. Amarinder Singh, who is a better bet against the Parkash Singh Badal government, has been pushed to the oblivion.

Similarly, the Congress lost in Rajasthan because of Ashok Gehlot’s inability to deliver. Taking advantage, the BJP contested 57 seats in the Jat belt where it had never fought before. Thanks to some smart strategising by former Congressman Chander Raj Singhvi, the BJP registered a win. But when Congress reshuffled its party structure in Rajasthan, it brought back all the people who were close to Gehlot.

Like Gehlot, Digvijay Singh was made a general secretary of the All India Congress Committee after the Congress lost to the BJP and Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh. After the defeat, he had sworn that he would not occupy any high office but took up the post. If losing CMs are made general secretaries or Governors (like S.M. Krishna), there is hope for people like Virbhadra Singh and Amarinder Singh, unless the Congress revises its strategy and makes it more practical and victory-oriented.

Some changes are expected in states like Maharashtra. But the decision to send Sushilkumar Shinde to Maharashtra is yet to be implemented. These days no one knows why sound decisions don’t get implemented swiftly in the Congress.

The AICC also needs attention. There are six members from Karnataka who are either general secretaries or in-charge of the states. One wonders whether they can help the party win in their state when the polls take place in March. There are other funny situations as well. Only some AICC secretaries have been assigned some work; the rest are moving around like headless chickens. To make matters worse, while some office-bearers are without work, there are ministers or CWC members who have the additional responsibilities of looking after the states. Prithviraj Chavan and Ajay Maken belong to this category.

It is the prerogative of a political party to appoint its media team. But when former Karnataka CM Veerappa Moily (remember the Moily tapes episode?) got the top job, eyebrows were raised. He does not understand the national media since he has only been a regional player and has limited access to Ms Gandhi. The party’s media department certainly needs to be overhauled. After Jaipal Reddy and Ambika Soni, the party has not been able to find good replacements.

Elections are due in 10 states in 2008. The Congress must wake up and its ministers need to shoulder more responsibilities. Other parties are reaping the political dividend of the good schemes started by Centre since the Congress is not making any effort to earn mileage. The party needs to resuscitate itself. For that, a revamp of the organisation and the government is needed. Between us.