In keeping with his cautious nature, Congress president Rahul Gandhi made a few key appointments of office bearers on Friday but kept everyone in suspense about the composition of the Congress Working Committee – the party’s highest decision-making body.
In a major move, Rahul Gandhi removed senior leader Janardhan Dwivedi as general secretary in charge of the party organisation and gave this job to former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Dwivedi has worked closely with former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The party chief also inducted two young leaders as office bearers. Former minister Jitendra Singh was given charge of Odisha in place of old timer BK Hari Prasad, while Lok Sabha MP Rajeev Satav was given responsibility for Gujarat affairs.
The appointments of Singh and Satav come as no surprise as both are known to be close to Rahul Gandhi and have always been members of his core team. Though not a young face, the more experienced Gehlot endeared himself to the Congress chief as the leader in charge of Gujarat in the recent Assembly polls. “Gehlot is experienced…he is a non-controversial and a low-key worker,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
Gehlot’s appointment led to immediate speculation that Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot – Gehlot’s younger rival – will be the party’s unofficial chief ministerial candidate in the state, which is due for elections at the end of the year. Gehlot nurses ambitions of getting back his old job as chief minister if the Congress takes the state – the main reason why the party has been unable to project anyone for the top job so far.
No CWC appointments yet
The latest batch of inductions come almost a week after delegates attending the Congress plenary session in Delhi authorised the party president to constitute his own team. These changes are expected to be followed by further appointments in the coming days and have created a buzz in party circles.
Congress leaders pointed out that the Congress Working Committee is usually reconstituted soon after a plenary session. The old committee is disbanded once a new president takes charge to enable the incumbent to make appointments of their choice.
But instead of putting in place the party’s top decision-making body, Rahul Gandhi has chosen to appoint office bearers. Last week, he appointed Amit Chavda as the president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee in place of Bharatsinh Solanki who had stepped down to facilitate the change of guard in the state. This approach is in keeping with Rahul Gandhi’s strategy to bring in new faces, but in a phased manner. Even before he took over as party chief, he had signalled his intent to give greater responsibility to younger leaders. For instance, his close aides – KC Venugopal, Deepak Babaria, RPN Singh, Avinash Pande and PL Punia – were inducted as office bearers and given charge of states. Additionally, Lok Sabha MP Sushmita Deb, also a member of Rahul Gandhi’s inner team, was appointed chief of the Mahila Congress.
While veteran leader Dwivedi is out of the party’s command structure, others whose wings have been clipped include former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and general secretaries Mohan Prakash and Madhusudan Mistry.
As the party awaits the reconstitution of the Congress Working Committee, there is palpable anxiety among senior party members about losing out to leaders from the next generation. In an effort to allay their fears, Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly said that his team will strike a balance between the young and the old. To that extent, Gehlot’s appointment would be a relief for Sonia Gandhi loyalists who had not only resisted Rahul Gandhi’s elevation but worked actively to put him down.
CWC after Karnataka polls?
However, Gehlot’s new assignment does not necessarily mean that some old timers will not lose their jobs. Party insiders maintained that it sent a message that seniors who had demonstrated their loyalty to Rahul Gandhi would be accommodated while those who he believes conspired against him, will be shown the door. “Rahul Gandhi is not averse to senior leaders but it is clear that he will retain those who believed in him,” remarked a senior Congress leader.
Now that the process of change has been kick-started, the guessing game about the composition of the Congress Working Committee and appointment of other party office bearers is bound to pick up speed in the coming days. Though the new working committee is expected to be put in place soon, there is also a view that the announcement could be delayed because of the coming Karnataka Assembly polls. According to Congress insiders, Rahul Gandhi may not want to make large-scale changes at this crucial juncture to avoid any dissensions in the party, which is always a possibility when new appointments are made.
Attention will also be focused on the composition of Rahul Gandhi’s office team and whether he will follow in his mother’s footsteps and appoint a political secretary to take on the role Ahmed Patel played for Sonia Gandhi. At present, K Raju, who headed the party’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes department till recently, is discharging the functions of chief of staff in the Congress president’s office. A former bureaucrat, Raju has been Rahul Gandhi’s chief ideologue for some years now, but he is not known to be in the same league as Patel.