A day before party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s Punjab visit to claim credit for flagging the drug issue much before the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the Congress on Sunday overhauled its organisational structure and named “heavyweight” Kamal Nath as an All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary incharge for Punjab and Haryana.
Nath’s appointment comes a day after the party faced a shocker in the Haryana Rajya Sabha elections owing to faulty marking by 14 MLAs which led to rejection of votes.
Though Nath, a loyalist of former PM Rajiv Gandhi, boasts of Punjabi roots — his family had moved to Kolkata from Amritsar after Partition — his appointment has raked up the ghost of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots for the party as he had faced charges of involvement in the riots before the Nanavati Commission. Later, US-based activist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) too had filed a complaint during his visit to Switzerland in January 2013 demanding his “prosecution for inciting the genocide”.
While Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh did not react to the appointment, AAP national convenor and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was quick to ask Amarinder to clear his stand on Nath’s appointment in view of his “name surfacing in the 1984 riots”. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) too shot a poser to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to tell Punjabis why he continued to follow the Gandhi family policy of “protecting and promoting the perpetrators of the 1984 anti-Sikh genocide”. Reacting to Nath’s appointment, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal said: “It’s a brazen act of insensitivity towards the Sikhs and crass and vulgar disregard of national opinion on the guilty of the massacre of thousands of innocent Sikh children, men and women by the Congress goons in November 1984. I just cannot believe a political party can be so brutally insensitive to the sentiments of the Sikh community.”
For the Congress, Nath’s appointment is being seen as a damage-control exercise after the recent Rajya Sabha shocker. He replaces Shakeel Ahmad, who is learnt to have been booted out for “inept” handling of RS elections in both the neighbouring states under his command. Shakeel was abroad during the RS elections on Saturday. Earlier, Punjab’s senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar had openly accused him of “weakening” the party in the state. The move is also being seen as party’s bid to assuage the ruffled feathers of Jakhar, whose candidature for the RS was not “supported” in favour of a rank newcomer, Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans, which led to a near-revolt like situation in which senior Dalit leader Shamsher Singh Dullo ended up bagging the seat.
In another poll-bound state, Uttar Pradesh, former Union minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has been appointed general secretary. He will replace Madhusudan Mistry. Uttar Pradesh too had seen crossvoting by Congress MLAs during the RS elections. The appointments are being seen as a move to set into motion the much-awaited organisational revamp in the party ahead of Rahul’s elevation as the party chief.
Congress insiders say the strategy behind appointing senior leaders such as Nath and Azad was to ensure quick decision-making. “Nath is known as a sharpshooter who has not lost any of the elections he had contested. Unlike Shakeel, Nath will not need Rahul’s sanction for every party decision and it will also ensure that the final power lies with the centre and not regional satraps such as Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh. It will also ensure more say for poll strategist Prashant Kishor in the two states heading for elections,” a senior Congress leader said.
Alumni of Doon School, both Amarinder and Nath, it is learnt, enjoy a good equation. Also, Nath is well-versed with issues facing Punjab as he was closely associated with the Rajiv-Longowal accord.