Congress president Sonia Gandhi named her son Rahul one of the general secretaries of her party in a move seen as mixing youth with experience ahead of the general elections widely expected to be held before schedule.
Rahul, MP from Amethi, automatically became a member of the party’s top decision-making body — the Congress Working Committee — three years after he joined politics and more than 18 months after supporters demanded a bigger role for him following an address to a party conference in Hyderabad.
Like his father late Rajiv Gandhi in the early 1980s, Rahul will begin his innings in the organisation by overseeing the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India (NSUI). Sonia also changed the heads of the Congress party in four states and handed down political work to some of the junior ministers.
“These changes were long overdue,” she said at a dinner hosted by Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari. When asked whether the changes were made with elections in mind, Sonia said, “As a political party we need to be prepared for all eventualities.’’ She refused to speculate about the timing of the elections. “Ask somebody who has a political horoscope,” she said.
In effecting the long-delayed, but major, All India Congress Committee (AICC) reshuffle, Sonia has drawn talent from the government and the parliamentary party, juggled work allocations and given the team a social and regional balance — all aimed at helping the party consolidate itself in states where it is strong and find its feet where it isn’t.
With the induction of ministers of state such as Prithviraj Chavan and Ajay Maken into the party organisation, the chances of an AICC reshuffle triggering changes in the Union Cabinet cannot be ruled out. Chavan is in charge of Jammu and Kashmir and Karnataka where the political situation is fluid in view of an impending change of guard in October as part of the JD(S)-BJP deal.
Maken, a CWC permanent invitee, will look after Jharkhand and Orissa. Another minister of state, Shakeel Ahmed, joins the list as spokesperson. Uttar Pradesh remains a concern for Sonia. She replaced Salman Khurshid with Rita Bahuguna Joshi as the PCC chief to help grab the women and the upper caste votes for the party in a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
In an indication of his rising graph in the AICC, former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh has taken over from Ashok Gehlot as general secretary in charge of UP where he will work in tandem with Rahul. The Amethi MP has often said he intends to concentrate on rebuilding the party in the state. Gehlot will continue to look after Delhi.
Sonia has expanded her team of general secretaries to 11 by bringing in Chavan, Kishore Chandra Deo — who heads the Lok Sabha’s privileges committee — and Rajya Sabha member Mohsina Kidwai. Chavan will handle Karnakata, Deo is in charge of Bihar where the party is striving to create a niche for itself after the caste wall crumbled with Lalu Yadav’s defeat. Kidwai, an old AICC hand, is also the party’s Muslim face. She will handle Kerala and the Mahila Congress among other things. The 11-member team includes representatives from the upper castes (Motilal Vora, Janardan Dwivedi) dalits (Mukul Wasnik, Deo), Muslims (Kidwai), OBCs (B K Hari Prasad) and minorities (Margaret Alva).
Several young MPs and activists have been drafted for party work to tap the vast reservoir of a young electorate. There are about a dozen new faces among the 34 AICC secretaries, including Jitin Prasada (UP), Madhu Goud Yashki (Andhra Pradesh), Ram Nivas Mirdha’s son Harender (Rajasthan), Meenakshi Natarajan and Alka Lamba (formerly with the NSUI) and late Sunil Dutt’s daughter Priya Dutt. Milind Deora is part of Depco (department of policy planning and coordination) that prepares the policy papers for the party.
The young brigade in the CWC includes Jyotiraditya Scindia, who was part of the panel earlier as well, and fresh inductee Rahul. Both are part of the 13-member team of a new group Sonia has constituted to look into future challenges. Giving them company here are also young leaders like Sachin Pilot and Sandeep Dikshit.
Ahmed Patel’s position as Congress president’s political secretary remains unchanged, said Janardan Dwivedi. The gainers from the reshuffle include Moily, head of the Administrative Reforms Commission who also chaired the oversight committee on quota-in-education who will also look after Andhra Pradesh.