The Congress on Thursday appointed Avinash Pande as its general secretary in-charge for Rajasthan and named Sunil Jakhar and Pritam Singh as the party chiefs of Punjab and Uttarakhand respectively.
Making another set of structural alterations after its drubbing in the recent assembly elections, the Congress leadership also appointed Vivek Tankha – a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh – as the head of the party’s legal department.
Pande (58) replaces Gurudas Kamat, who had requested the Congress high command to relieve him of all organisational responsibilities following differences with Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and Maharashtra’s party general secretary in-charge Mohan Prakash over their functioning.
A former Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra, Pande has been a party secretary for nearly a decade now. He will be assisted in Rajasthan by a four-member team of secretaries, comprising Vivek Bansal, Qazi Mohammad Nizamuddin, Devendra Yadav and Tarun Kumar.
The Congress has tried to balance caste equations in both Punjab and Uttarakhand, where assembly elections were held in February-March this year. While 63-year-old Jakhar is the Hindu face of the party in Punjab, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh is a Jat Sikh. The Congress was keen on maintaining the Sikh-Hindu combination in Punjab after winning the assembly elections. Three-time legislator Jakhar had lost the recent elections from Abohar.
Though the Congress recently appointed Jakhar as its pradesh returning officer for Uttar Pradesh, the appointment will have to be cancelled because the party constitution does not permit office-bearers to be a part of the internal election authority responsible for conducting organisational polls.
In Uttarakhand, the party sought to stick to its Brahmin-Rajput equation. While the new Congress chief – Pritam Singh – is a Rajput, legislature party leader Indira Hridayesh belongs to the Brahmin community. However, 58-year-old Singh’s Chakrata seat, from where he won for the fourth time in the recent assembly elections, has been reserved for scheduled tribes (STs). All residents of Chakrata have been given the ST status, irrespective of caste.
Singh replaces Kishor Upadhyaya, a Brahmin who lost the recently held elections from Sahaspur seat. Harish Rawat, a Rajput, was the chief minister when Upadhyaya held the post.
In the ongoing reshuffle exercise, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and party vice-president Rahul Gandhi appear to be relying on a mix of experience and youth once again. Of the 17 new office-bearers appointed so far, 10 are under 50 years of age while seven belong to the other backward classes and three to the scheduled caste categories.
Last week, former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot was appointed as the party general secretary in-charge of poll-bound Gujarat while Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh was divested of his Goa and Karnataka portfolios. The sacking of Singh, a rare move in the grand old party, came in view of the Goa fiasco – which saw the BJP return to power despite the Congress emerging as the largest party in the state assembly. It was widely seen as a declaration that the party leadership will no longer shy away from acting tough in such cases.
KC Venugopal, a Lok Sabha MP from Kerala, was named as the new Congress general secretary in-charge of Karnataka. The southern state goes to the polls in April-May 2018.
Earlier in the day, Rahul also met a party delegation from Odisha to discuss organisational restructuring in the state. During their 90-minute meeting, a few leaders – comprising Niranjan Patnaik, Bhakta Charan Das and Pradeep Majhi – urged the Congress vice-president to remove state chief Prasad Harichandan from his position because “he had failed to resurrect the party and re-energise the cadre”.
The final call on the matter will be taken at a meeting of all legislators and party leaders from Odisha, to be held in Delhi on May 8. Rahul will meet the newly appointed office-bearers on May 6.