Azad, Kamal Nath’s new assignments reaffirm synergy between Rahul and old guard | india-news | Hindustan Times
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Azad, Kamal Nath’s new assignments reaffirm synergy between Rahul and old guard

The Congress’s decision to give charge of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath indicates the seriousness with which the party views the two big electoral fights of early 2017.

india Updated: Jun 13, 2016 17:28 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Kamal Nath

Congress leaders taking selfie with vice president AICC Rahul Gandhi in Jalandhar.(Pardeep Pandit/HT Photo)

The Congress’s decision to give charge of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath indicates the seriousness with which the party views the two big electoral fights of early 2017.

Coming ahead of an organisational reshuffle -- talked about for a while but without any official confirmation — that will see vice-president Rahul Gandhi take control of the party, the two appointments send out several messages, party leaders and analysts say.

“One important signal that these appointments send is that Rahul Gandhi is taking the old guard along. There is work and respect for senior leaders,” a party leader in New Delhi said on Monday, a day after the changes were announced.

Rahul’s growing profile triggered speculation that the new Congress under him will have no use for seniors. The appointments of Azad, 67, and Nath, 69, had laid those fears to rest, said Prof Balveer Arora, a political analyst and former pro-vice chancellor of Jawaharalal Nehru University.

“There was a lack of consistency and direction with Rahul’s elevation (to the post of vice-president three years ago). A decision on what will happen to older leaders was pending. That decision seems to have been taken,” he said.

The appointments, he said, also send a message to “those who are leaving or tempted to leave that the party leadership is building on the strengths of the past”.

Several leaders have walked out of the Congress in recent years as its battles sliding popularity and a string of electoral debacles. The latest blow came in Assam when Hemanta Biswa Sarma, a former Sonia loyalist, switched sides to the BJP, engineering the saffron party’s first electoral win in the northeastern state.

The two appointments leave only one general secretary’s position vacant which was expected to go to a younger leader, sources said.

Azad is the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress on the strength of its numerical superiority has blocked the government’s attempts to push through key legislations. Nath is the party’s senior-most lawmaker in the Lok Sabha, having been elected nine times from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. Azad has had several ministerial stints at the Centre -- the first was under prime minister Indira Gandhi – and has served as Uttar Pradesh general secretary earlier as well.

Nath’s stature and seniority would help him rein in the warring factions, a Congress national secretary from Punjab said. The Congress is looking to make a comeback in the border state with the SAD-BJP ruling combine battling anti-incumbency and charges of corruption. But, infighting and the Aam Aadmi Party, which is making its poll debut and fancies it chances in the state, pose a threat to the party.

Nath and Punjab Congress chief and former CM Capt Amarinder Singh were at the Doon School around the same time over six decades ago and share a good equation.

But, Nath’s appointment has rivals raking up the 1984 anti-Sikh violence.

“I just cannot believe a political party can be so brutally insensitive to the sentiments of the Sikh community,” chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said.

One of AAP’s prominent faces in the state is lawyer HS Phoolka, who has been fighting for the victims of the communal violence that followed the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“The Congress is rewarding Kamal Nath for obeying (then prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi’s orders during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi,” Phoolka said at a press conference in Delhi.

“Reports show that Kamal Nath was present outside Gurdwara Rakab Ganj as part of the mob. What was he doing there? If he had come to protect the gurdwara why did he not help the distressed Sikhs who were burnt alive and three of them were crying for medical aid?”

Nath has maintained that the Nanavati Commission that investigated the anti-Sikh riots cleared him of all charges.

“The opposition parties will try and make this a political issue in Punjab,” a Congress MP from the state confessed.

New Delhi: The Congress’s decision to give charge of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to veterans Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath indicates the seriousness with which the party views the two big electoral fights of early 2017.

Coming ahead of an organisational reshuffle -- talked about for a while but without any official confirmation — that will see vice-president Rahul Gandhi take control of the party, the two appointments send out several messages, party leaders and analysts say.

“One important signal that these appointments send is that Rahul Gandhi is taking the old guard along. There is work and respect for senior leaders,” a party leader in New Delhi said on Monday, a day after the changes were announced.

Rahul’s growing profile triggered speculation that the new Congress under him will have no use for seniors. The appointments of Azad, 67, and Nath, 69, had laid those fears to rest, said Prof Balveer Arora, a political analyst and former pro-vice chancellor of Jawaharalal Nehru University.

“There was a lack of consistency and direction with Rahul’s elevation (to the post of vice-president three years ago). A decision on what will happen to older leaders was pending. That decision seems to have been taken,” he said.

The appointments, he said, also send a message to “those who are leaving or tempted to leave that the party leadership is building on the strengths of the past”.

Several leaders have walked out of the Congress in recent years as its battles sliding popularity and a string of electoral debacles. The latest blow came in Assam when Hemanta Biswa Sarma, a former Sonia loyalist, switched sides to the BJP, engineering the saffron party’s first electoral win in the northeastern state.

The two appointments leave only one general secretary’s position vacant which was expected to go to a younger leader, sources said.

Azad is the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where the Congress on the strength of its numerical superiority has blocked the government’s attempts to push through key legislations. Nath is the party’s senior-most lawmaker in the Lok Sabha, having been elected nine times from Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh. Azad has had several ministerial stints at the Centre -- the first was under prime minister Indira Gandhi – and has served as Uttar Pradesh general secretary earlier as well.

Nath’s stature and seniority would help him rein in the warring factions, a Congress national secretary from Punjab said. The Congress is looking to make a comeback in the border state with the SAD-BJP ruling combine battling anti-incumbency and charges of corruption. But, infighting and the Aam Aadmi Party, which is making its poll debut and fancies it chances in the state, pose a threat to the party.

Nath and Punjab Congress chief and former CM Capt Amarinder Singh were at the Doon School around the same time over six decades ago and share a good equation.

But, Nath’s appointment has rivals raking up the 1984 anti-Sikh violence.

“I just cannot believe a political party can be so brutally insensitive to the sentiments of the Sikh community,” chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said.

One of AAP’s prominent faces in the state is lawyer HS Phoolka, who has been fighting for the victims of the communal violence that followed the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“The Congress is rewarding Kamal Nath for obeying (then prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi’s orders during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi,” Phoolka said at a press conference in Delhi.

“Reports show that Kamal Nath was present outside Gurdwara Rakab Ganj as part of the mob. What was he doing there? If he had come to protect the gurdwara why did he not help the distressed Sikhs who were burnt alive and three of them were crying for medical aid?”

Nath has maintained that the Nanavati Commission that investigated the anti-Sikh riots cleared him of all charges.

“The opposition parties will try and make this a political issue in Punjab,” a Congress MP from the state said.

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