The recent reshuffle in the Congress has initiated the facelift of the 128-year-old grand old lady, with a bunch of new faces coming in as party secretaries.
The move signalled the beginning of a generational shift — a catchphrase in the party ever since Rahul Gandhi took over as vice-president in January. Of the 44 new secretaries, 25 are young faces and even most of those retained — 16 had been dropped — are young.
Political analyst Zoya Hasan of Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “There are two striking features in the revamp move. First, it has been clearly scripted by Rahul Gandhi. Second, a large number of secretaries come from non-dynastic and non-influential background.”
The changes were carried out with not just an eye on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but also as part of Gandhi’s much-touted revitalisation plan.
By elevating his close associates Madhusudan Mistry and Mohan Prakash — despite the tag of being outsiders — Gandhi had sent across a clear message that his decisions would not get influenced by intra-party politics.
But how have the new secretaries been selected? It took Gandhi almost four months since March this year to complete the assessment exercise in his typical corporate style.
Gandhi first took up the existing list for scrutiny and spotted non-performers. Then he shortlisted more than 70 and called them for one-on-one interviews to evaluate their performance in the organisation, especially at the ground level.
One of the questions asked during the interview was how they planned to strengthen the organisation in the states under their charge. Based on their answers and the feedback received from the ground, the final list was prepared.
From now on, the performance of these new secretaries will decide their future in the organisation. During his first meeting with them after their appointment, Gandhi made it very clear that the future top leaders would come only from them.
Unlike in the past when most of the secretaries used to while away their time at the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road in Delhi and engage mostly in non-political businesses, the new office- bearers have been entrusted with serious assignments and given charge of different states.
For instance, Prakash Joshi, a former Youth Congress election commissioner who had worked closely with Gandhi in democratising the party’s youth wing, has been given charge of Uttar Pradesh, a politically important state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
As a youth leader, Joshi, 42, held charge of almost all the states in the country. Though he lost in the 2012 Uttarakhand assembly elections due to rebel candidates, Gandhi noticed his hard work and commitment. “The deserving have been given their due,” Joshi said.
But there are still some surprises — the appointment of 59-year-old Prabha Kishore Taviad, an MP from Dahod in Gujarat, as one of the three secretaries attached to Gandhi. The other two are Suraj Hegde from Karnataka and Girish Chodankar from Goa.
A gynaecologist by profession, Taviad was first noticed when she cried in the Lok Sabha last year, displaying the bruises she suffered during an alleged police assault preventing her from attending the Gujarat Day function presided over by chief minister Narendra Modi.
The three had left behind scores of aspirants in the race, replacing Gandhi’s four secretaries — Meenakshi Natarajan, Jitendra Singh, Deepak Babaria and Shanimol Usman.