The Congress appears to have responded to calls from its rank and file to initiate organisational changes and fix responsibility for a string of electoral losses since the 2014 national elections.
It has slowly begun the process of restructuring — evident from the sacking of party general secretary Digvijaya Singh as its in-charge in Goa.
The party won the most seats in the April-May assembly elections, but couldn’t collect any allies to unseat the BJP from power in the small western state.
Such action from the high command, replacing a senior functionary on state leaders’ demand, is rare in the Congress. But then, the party leadership is facing wide criticism for its indecisiveness, breakdown of the decision-making process, and failure to react to crisis situations, especially after the worst drubbing in the 2014 elections.
Singh’s ouster is seen as a message that the leadership won’t hesitate to act tough, whenever the need arises to hold senior functionaries accountable.
Singh, a former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, lost charge of Karnataka as well. That was apparently done on the request of state leaders and legislators, who complained against his work style. Dissent could trip the party’s chances of retaining power in the southern state that votes in April-May next year.
The BJP is trying hard to make a comeback in Karnataka, but bitter infighting could give the Congress the window to check the anti-incumbency.
There is also an indication that the Congress leadership is relying on a mix of experience and youth to steer the party.
The 66-year-old former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Kerala parliamentarian KC Venugopal, who is 54, were appointed general secretaries. These were clear examples.
Young leaders have been made party secretaries and given charge of different states with a long-term aim to build a team for the future.
Situations such as the one in Assam might have prompted a course change. The Congress lost the northeastern state and became vulnerable in the region after young regional leader Himanta Biswa Sarma broke ranks and joined the BJP before the 2016 Assam polls.
The party had to forego Arunachal Pradesh because of dissension and is facing an exodus of lawmakers and leaders in Manipur, where the BJP ousted a 15-year Congress rule in this year’s elections.
Sarma is among the main leaders credited with the BJP’s success in Manipur. The Congress repeated the Goa story here too — emerged as the single largest party with more legislators but fell short of a majority and couldn’t get any allies to support it to form the government.
The Congress leadership, however, has yet to move fast and bring changes in states such as Bihar, Punjab, Kerala and Odisha.
Besides, there is still no clarity when Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi will formally take over the reins of the organisation from his mother, Sonia Gandhi, who has been at the helm since 1998.